AmeriScan: September 15, 2005

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Clinton Gathers Public, Private Leaders to Solve Global Problems

NEW YORK, New York, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - The get-together has lofty ambitions - to rid the world of extreme poverty, reduce religious conflict, slow global warming, and foster good governance in new democracies. The three day event begins today in New York, gathering some 800 people, including heads of state and government to make pledges of work or money to accomplish these goals.

The meeting is the first Clinton Global Initiative conference, organized by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Among the conference topics - financing a clean energy future, the critical moment in the fight against poverty, and Islam and the West.

Clinton chose the topics for the conference after extensive consultation with people that are interested in these areas. "I believe that there are now proven strategies that will alleviate poverty and generate economic subsidies among the poor. I believe there is a lot of money to be made in helping the world transition to cleaner energy, which reduces our dependence on oil and reduces climate change. And I believe that religion can be a source of unity in the world, not division," said Clinton.

Among the distinguished participants is His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasajo, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan of Turkey, President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, and Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.

More distinguished participants are Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, and publisher Rupert Murdoch.

Each participant paid $15,000 to attend.

Clinton said, "This nonpartisan conference will concentrate a diverse and select group of current and former heads of state, business leaders, noteworthy academicians, and key NGO representatives to identify immediate and pragmatic solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems."

"The workshops will focus on how to reduce poverty; use religion as a force for reconciliation and conflict resolution; implement new business strategies and technologies to combat climate change; and strengthen governance."

"Our meeting will emphasize dynamic group interaction to identify an agenda we can actually implement," he said.

"By identifying specific ways to address the challenges of our time and asking each participant to make a specific commitment to take action in one of the areas discussed," Clinton said, "I believe this Initiative will prove to be a unique and effective forum for leaders and their communities around the world."

The inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative is planned to coincide with the Millennium Summit of the UN General Assembly taking place this week at UN Headquarters in New York.

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Senate Passes Small Business Relief for Katrina Victims

WASHINGTON, DC, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - With estimates of more than 400,000 jobs lost and 200,000 small business hurt by Hurricane Katrina, the Senate today passed a package of emergency economic aid and federal assistance for small businesses and others reeling from the destruction in the Gulf Coast.

The bipartisan amendment was offered by Democratic Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Republican Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and David Vitter of Louisiana.

The measure was authored by Kerry, the Ranking Member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, who authored a similar assistance package for small businesses recovering in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"When I was in Louisiana earlier this week, so many people said to me. 'I want to work, I want to rebuild my home and my life, but I have no place to go.' The Gulf Coast needs so much, and this is a common sense and very direct way to help people get their jobs and their dignity back," said Kerry.

One of the most comprehensive pieces of the relief package will give small businesses across the country access to low interest disaster loans to cope with the increased costs of oil, natural gas and gasoline. This will especially benefit farmers, truck drivers and others whose livelihood relies heavily on the price of gas.

In addition, the relief package also provides small businesses in the Gulf region access to short-term loans or grants that will be rapidly approved to help businesses that are waiting for Small Business Administration (SBA) loan approval begin rebuilding immediately.

The meausre offers a one-year deferral on the interest and payments for SBA disaster loans. In addition, it offers access to 30 percent of all federal contracts and 40 percent of subcontracting dollars used in the recovery and relief effort.

The legislation provides for expanded Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) status, which gives small businesses in the area a preference when bidding on federal contracts.

Increased counseling and business assistance, greater opportunities for small construction companies to receive SBA bonding assistance, which is a type of financial loss insurance on the contract, and the ability to refinance existing disaster loans and existing business debt with low-interest disaster loans, are all included in the measure.

The small business relief package was introduced Wednesday by Senators Kerry and Landrieu as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill (S.2862) currently pending in the Senate.

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Largest Hazwaste Treatment Firm Must Quantify Benzene

WASHINGTON, DC, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - North America's largest operator of hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities has settled with the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on methods of calculating and reporting on benzene emissions that will meet federal standards. Benzene is a hazardous air pollutant and a known carcinogen.

The settlement with Clean Harbors Environmental Services involves 10 facilities in eight states. It confirms the proper industry standard for compliance with the Clean Air Act regulation that limits benzene emissions from facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste.

The affected facilities are located in Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Braintree, Massachusetts; Bristol, Connecticut; Baton Rouge and Plaquemine, Louisiana; La Porte and Deer Park, Texas; Kimball, Nebraska; and Aragonite, Utah.

A consent decree, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, will require Clean Harbors to properly determine the benzene quantities in waste shipments received from its customers.

Clean Harbors will not be allowed to estimate the benzene received by using the middle number in a range of possible benzene concentrations that a customer supplies. Instead, Clean Harbors will have to measure the actual benzene concentration or use the high end of the range in order to ensure that benzene is not underreported.

Underreporting benzene can result in failing to install pollution controls on tanks and other equipment that handle benzene.

The agreement with Clean Harbors is part of EPA's efforts to enhance compliance with benzene regulations among hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.

"Companies that treat, store, or dispose hazardous waste are required to properly quantify the amount of benzene received at their sites," said Granta Nakayama, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "It is particularly important for facilities that have the potential to release benzene, a known carcinogen, into the air."

To meet its obligations under the consent decree, Clean Harbors will revise its nationwide "Waste Material Profile Sheet" to ensure that all customers that are covered by the benzene waste regulation properly evaluate and certify the amount of benzene in their waste shipments.

Clean Harbors will institute a program to sample these wastes to ensure proper reporting and will train its employees on compliance with the benzene regulations. Clean Harbors will also pay a $300,000 penalty.

"By enforcing proper methods to calculate benzene emissions, we move closer to ensuring that this hazardous air pollutant is not unlawfully emitted into our environment," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly Johnson. "Today's settlement with the country's largest operator of hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities should set the standard for the rest of this industry."

The states of Illinois and Louisiana are joining the settlement.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available from DOJ at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html and EPA at: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/cleanharbors.html

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Family Awarded $13 Million in Wrongful Death Case Against BP

INDEPENDENCE, Missouri, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - In the first of 25 lawsuits against oil giant BP Corporation, a jury awarded $13.3 million in compensatory damages to the family of plaintiff Nancy Ryan, who died last year of a rare blood disorder, melody splastic syndrome.

The decision was delivered Wednesday at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Independence. Punitive damages were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Lon Walters, Ryan’s blood disorder was caused by exposure to benzene through inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption of benzene and other chemicals which migrated beyond the borders of the refinery.

Expert testimony revealed that Ryan’s status as a stay at home mother and housewife placed her exposure rate in a 24 hour day at 85 to 90 percent during the time she lived near the refinery.

Refinery records show officials knew as early as March 1950 petroleum was migrating off site and into Ryan’s neighborhood from leaking tanks and pipelines. The American Petroleum Institute had released a report in 1948 warning refineries that benzene exposure at any level was unsafe.

During the refinery’s expansion that began in 1948 they chose to place their pipelines underground in spite of petroleum industry recommendation a few years prior to place pipelines aboveground.

The expansion was to the north and the east of Ryan and her neighbors, in what was named the West Hills and West Tank areas.

Refinery records indicate that 23 tanks brought in at that time were previously used at an Oklahoma refinery and were not tested before being filled with petroleum product. An independent investigation in 1957 confirmed product from the tanks, as well as from the process area, was leaking into faults, trenches and fissures in the bedrock in the southern perimeter and off-site of the refinery.

Also an issue then were the leaking underground pipes. In a 1964 investigation one line was found to be leaking one barrel (42 gallons) an hour. It was undetermined for how long it had been leaking. The line was not shut down when the leak was found, but was replaced 10 days later.

Aware of the problems with their tanks, refinery records show that in the 1970s the refinery was inspecting their tanks on a 10 year cycle, although industry standards were for tanks to have a complete inspection every six months to five years, depending on the materials the tanks stored.

Documents reveal refinery officials knew that for a decade an average of 8,000 to 27,000 gallons per day were lost underground.

A 1966 company document reveals that three options were considered to stop oil and gas from migrating off-site. The first was to locate and repair the leaks at an undetermined but tremendous cost. The second was raising the pipes for a few million dollars. The third and least expensive option, which the company chose, was to dig a ditch to collect the product at the cost of $28,000.

Janet Nichols Elliott, resident of Sugar Creek, Missouri and chairperson for citizens group CLEANUP said, “BP officials have known for years that the state of Missouri regulatory agency, as well as the EPA, doesn’t have the technical ability to go head to head with facilities. This jury made it clear that no corporation, regardless of its size and power, can get by with knowingly placing peoples life at risk."

BP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources have not honored their commitment to clean up contamination of the residential area, Elliot claims.

"Instead, they spend their time trying to figure out how they can reuse the contaminated former refinery for the 'economic benefit' of Sugar Creek," she says. "The mayor has a pretty map in his office depicting playgrounds, swimming pools and other recreational areas as part of the new Bluffs of Sugar Creek.”

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Lawsuit Filed to Block Methyl Bromide Rule for Wood Packaging

ALBANY, New York, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of four states and an environmental group today sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to impose effective controls against destructive insects that enter the country in shipping pallets and other wooden packaging.

A new rule issued by the USDA requires the use of methyl bromide, a pesticide the plaintiffs says is "marginally effective" but damages the environment and is being phased out of use under an international treaty.

The states of New York, California, Connecticut and Illinois filed the lawsuit, which seeks a court order directing the USDA to examine more effective and less environmentally harmful methods of preventing the insects from entering the country. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has joined the states in their lawsuit.

Invasive insect pests, such as the Asian long-horned beetle, emerald ash borer, and pine shoot beetle, enter the country in wooden pallets and other packaging made from raw wood. There is no question that these pests are damaging.

The insects have damaged trees in New York City, Long Island, Chicago and other communities. Thousands of trees have been destroyed in an effort to prevent the spread of these pests, which have few local predators or diseases to kill them.

If these destructive insects spread from U.S. ports of entry into the nation’s forests, they could further damage the timber, tree nursery, fruit orchard, maple syrup, and tourism industries.

At the core of the lawsuit is USDA’s failure to comply with a federal law requiring it to study alternatives to any proposed action having an impact on the environment.

The new regulations, which take effect on September 16, require foreign shippers to treat raw wood pallets and crates with methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical, or heat in an effort to kill tree-eating insects that ride into the United States on the packaging.

But the plaintiffs point to USDA studies showing that neither treatment method kills all pests even when properly applied, and that both are easily subject to forgery and fraud.

“These destructive insects are a multi-billion dollar threat to American’s forests and urban parks,” said David Doniger, policy director for NRDC’s Climate Center. “Using raw wood packaging is the problem and the solution is to switch to other packaging materials that the bugs can’t ride on.”

Methyl bromide is the most powerful ozone-depleting chemical still in widespread use, and is being phased out of use under the terms of the Montreal Protocol targeting substances that damage the ozone layer, which protects humans from harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer, cataracts and immunological disease.

Replacing raw wood pallets with pallets made from other material, such as plywood, processed wood or new or recycled plastic, would largely eliminate the risk of pest invasion and would avoid harm to the ozone layer since the alternative packaging materials do not require methyl bromide treatment.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said, “It is difficult to understand why the states must resort to a lawsuit in this matter when both the law and common sense dictate that the USDA seek more effective and less environmentally damaging alternatives to thwarting these invasive pests.”

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said, “Methyl bromide is a potent and dangerous chemical. It helps destroy the Earth’s ozone layer and exposes those who come into contact with it to the risk of cancer. That is why health experts called for a complete ban and why the United States agreed to an international treaty to phase out its use. It simply doesn’t follow that USDA officials are proposing to ramp up its use, and endanger air quality and public health, especially when there are proven non-chemical alternatives.”

In 1999, the USDA acknowledged the need to find a long-term solution to the problem of pests in solid wood packaging, recognizing that fumigation was not fully effective and was harmful to the environment. Yet, in issuing the rule challenged today, the USDA did not even examine phasing out solid wood packaging - which it earlier deemed to be the more effective alternative, the plaintiffs claim.

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NOAA to Recapture Trained Dolphins Washed Into the Wild by Katrina

GULFPORT, Mississippi, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the Marine Life Aquarium of Gulfport, are planning to recapture eight aquarium dolphins from the Mississippi Sound in the next few days.

The eight bottlenose dolphins were swept out of an aquarium tank by an estimated 40-foot wave during Hurricane Katrina. This is the first large marine mammal rescue effort since Katrina struck on August 29.

NOAA Fisheries Service scientists spotted the dolphins swimming on Saturday while conducting an aerial survey of natural resource damage. Because these dolphins are from a captive facility they do not forage for food and may not have the survival skills necessary to avoid predators or boat traffic. Marine Life Aquarium trainers and NOAA Fisheries Service biologists have been feeding the dolphins several times a day from the NOAA vessel. The group includes two mother dolphins with two young in tow.

"We are so pleased to have found these dolphins and that they are all together," said NOAA Fisheries Service lead veterinarian Dr. Teri Rowles. "Our biologists and the trainers say all of them appear significantly underweight and have severe to minor wounds. These animals have been swimming in water, where we are unsure of the conditions, and have been nutritionally stressed for two weeks. We remain cautiously optimistic that they will recover from this ordeal."

Due to the condition of the water and the difficulty of the rescue, biologists will capture the dolphins in stages. They plan to transport the dolphins to nearby salt-water pools, provided by the U.S. Navy, to give them medical care and to evaluate them for contagious disease. Rowles said the dolphins would be kept in quarantine while scientists access their overall health.

"Three of these eight dolphins were born at the facility, and had never been in the wild," said Moby Solangi, owner and director for the Marine Life Aquarium. "Once we realized the dolphins had been swept out to sea during the hurricane, we feared that they had died. We are just thrilled that they have stayed together during the past couple of weeks."

The effort to rescue the eight dolphins now involves the U.S. Navy, the Air National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Days before the hurricane, workers at the Aquarium were able to move another group of dolphins into a pool that survived Hurricane Camille in 1969. These animals survived and were moved to the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. This eight dolphins being rescued had to be left in their original pool at Marine Life Aquarium.

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Owner Handed Keys to Net Zero Energy Habitat for Humanity House

GOLDEN, Colorado, September 15, 2005 (ENS) - Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver today dedicated the ultimate energy efficient demonstration home - a house designed to produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis.

The Net Zero Energy Habitat for Humanity House, at 4700 Carr Street in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, combines energy efficient building design that reduces energy consumption with solar heat and power generation technologies that supply the home’s remaining energy needs.

Midwest Research Institute and Battelle sponsored Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver’s first net zero energy home on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Midwest Research Institute and Battelle manage NREL for the Energy Department.

“We are pleased that through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity NREL researchers were able to advance DOE’s goal to deliver reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy options to consumers,” said NREL Director Dan Arvizu.

“Together, we created a home that is not only comfortable and affordable, but uses less than half of the energy of a standard home while producing energy through renewable energy systems,” he said. NREL researchers designed the house using the latest research tools.

The house features superinsulated walls, floors, and ceilings; efficient appliances; a solar water heating system; heat-recovery ventilation system to assure indoor air quality; compact fluorescent lighting; and windows coated with thin layers of metallic oxide to help keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer.

The home’s four kilowatt photovoltaic system is sized to produce excess energy in the summer to balance out winter consumption.

Arvizu presented house keys to homeowner Amy Whalen and her sons Orlando, 6, and Angelo, 4 during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“Living in a net zero energy house will be a wonderful transition to improving my financial status since I won't have such high utility bills anymore,” Whalen said. “It will afford me the ability to save and have more for my sons.”

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman kicked off DOE’s "Energizing America for Energy Security" tour at the home’s construction site on June 13. Colorado Congressman Bob Beauprez worked on the home on July 9 as part of the Habitat for Humanity Congress Building America project.

NREL and DOE staff and their family and friends volunteered throughout the summer to help with the home’s construction.

NREL researchers will monitor the performance of the home for one year. This monitoring will be used to determine if the energy features of the home perform as expected and investigate potential improvements on the approached used to achieve zero energy.

Additional sponsors of the net zero energy house include the Colorado Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation, Xcel Energy, Siemens Building Technologies and Altair Energy.

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