Galveston, Houston Empty Ahead of Hurricane RitaHOUSTON, Texas, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricane Rita has weakened a little as it blows towards the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami says it is still a "very dangerous" hurricane.
A hurricane warning is in effect from Port O'Connor, Texas to Morgan City, Louisiana. A tropical storm warning remains in effect for the southeastern coast of Louisiana including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.
This morning the center of Hurricane Rita was located about 220 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas and about 210 miles southeast of Port Arthur, Texas, moving northwest at about 10 miles per hour. The core of Rita is expected to make landfall early Saturday.
Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 135 mph with higher gusts, putting Rita at the border of Categories Four and Three on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Weather forecasters say a slight weakening is still possible before landfall, but Rita is expected to come ashore as a major hurricane.
Texas state Homeland Security Director Jack McCraw said the evacuation of the island city of Galveston is finished. Now the state is working to get people out of Houston before tropical storm-force winds hit today.
After the devastation Hurricane Katrina wreaked on neighboring Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on August 29, Texans took the order to evacuate seriously, clogging the highways with hundreds of thousands of cars. Gas stations are few and far between, so cars have been running out of gas, leaving frightened people stranded on the road.
Texas Department of Public Safety trucks are coming to the rescue, driving Interstates 10 and 45 and U.S. 290 with supplies of gasoline to move motorists out of the danger area.
At a briefing today McCraw asked motorists who run out of gas to pull to the roadsides and wait for help, rather than blocking traffic.
"If you're in the storm's path, you need to git gone," Texas Governor Rick Perry said at a press conference this morning. "Those few hardheaded ones out there who are going to ride this thing out, don't expect there to be a lot of support in those areas."
A special evacuation is underway for thousands of nursing home patients and homeless people. Some evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who took refuge in Texas have had to flee a hurricane for the second time this month without transportation of their own.
Recovery assistance is already on stand-by. For instance, helicopter crews from Air Force Space Command's 20th Air Force are standing ready today to support relief operations following Hurricane Rita.
Six helicopters from bases in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota are preparing to deploy to the relief area to provide food, water and medical supplies as needed to affected areas.
"All of the Helos have forward-looking infrared radar; four Helos have hoist capabilities; and two can be used for search and rescue missions," said Col. Michael Vaughn, 20th Air Force director of operations. During Hurricane Katrina, the helicopter teams logged more than 170 flying hours across 110 sorties and delivered more than 25 tons of supplies.
If deployed, this will be the second time AFSPC has deployed its helicopters outside of their daily mission of intercontinental ballistic missile field security.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, 12 aircrews and C-130's were put on alert this morning to support Hurricane Rita relief efforts. "We have the ability to deploy anytime and anywhere to respond quickly to any situation around the world," said Col. Andy Hamilton, 314 Operations Group commander. "We feel it is important to use this capability in times of emergency."
Feds Seek Environmental Scapegoats for New Orleans Levee BreachesWASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department is seeking a way to blame environmentalists for the failure of the levee structures around New Orleans, according to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat.
In an internal e-mail made public by Boxer on Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice asked various U.S. attorneys’ offices to report on any cases they had defended “on behalf of the [U.S.] Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation.”
The Bush administration has been criticized for cutting federal funding for upgrades of the levees.
"If the President is sincere when he says he accepts responsibility for the abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina," Boxer said, "he should instruct his Justice Department to stop trying to smear environmentalists by blaming them for the government's failure to shore up the levee system in Louisiana."
Meanwhile, there is a move to waive environmental regulations as the effort to clean up New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states continues, the California senator says. "There is a proposal that would make it possible for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to waive any and all environmental regulations in the case of a natural disaster - whether it is declared a disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or not," she says.
Boxer says she will fight any proposal that would make this possible, "believing that we can consider what rules might be temporarily put on hold for very specific instances and for very specific purposes for a declared disaster."
"There are vital lessons that we must learn in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," she said, "however, those lessons should not include blaming environmentalists for the levee failures and should not lead us to running roughshod over environmental regulations intended to protect our people and our land.
Energy Department Wants Input on $3 Billion Climate Tech PlanWASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - On Thursday, the Department of Energy released for public review and comment a $3 billion plan for accelerating development and reducing the cost of new and advanced technologies that avoid, reduce, or capture and store greenhouse gas emissions – the technology component of a U.S. approach to climate change.
The technologies developed under the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) will be used and deployed among the United States' partners in the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development that was announced earlier this year.
“This Strategic Plan is the first of its kind and will provide a comprehensive, long-term look at the role for advanced technology in addressing this important global concern,” David Conover, director of the Climate Change Technology Program said.
The CCTP draft Strategic Plan provides strategic direction and organizes about $3 billion in federal spending for climate change technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment that the Energy Department says are "needed to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and power economic growth."
This activity complements other efforts including short-term measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensity, advance climate change science, and promote international cooperation.
The Plan sets six complementary goals: reducing emissions from energy use and infrastructure; reducing emissions from energy supply; capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide; reducing emissions of other greenhouse gases; measuring and monitoring emissions; and bolstering the contributions of basic science to climate change.
The Plan outlines approaches toward attaining these goals, articulates underlying technology development strategies, and identifies a series of next steps toward implementation.
To view and comment on the CCTP draft Strategic Plan, please visit the CCTP website at: http://www.climatetechnology.gov.
CCTP will discuss the plan with stakeholders at a series of workshops during the next few months. The public comment period will close on Wednesday, November 2, 2005.
The completed plan is expected in 2006.
Illinois Man Indicted for Discharging Million Gallons of ManurePEORIA, Illinois, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - An Illinois man was indicted by a federal grand jury for a criminal violation of the federal Clean Water Act, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday. David Inskeep, who formerly managed and operated the Inwood Dairy, located in Elmwood, Illinois, is charged with one count of knowingly discharging pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit.
At the time of the alleged offense Inskeep managed the Inwood Dairy and its 1,250 dairy cows and operated a waste management system consisting of a lagoon designed at full capacity to hold 40 million gallons of waste generated by the animals.
The system used water to flush cattle manure and waste water from the barns to a central collection point; waste was then pumped to the lagoon for storage until it could be lawfully removed.
The indictment alleges that on February 14, 2001, an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) official observed that the waste level in the Inwood Dairy lagoon was three inches from the top of the berm wall and advised Inskeep to stop pumping waste into the lagoon. The following day, another IEPA official allegedly found the lagoon was completely full with the pump still operating.
Despite the official’s request to turn off the pump or face an overflow and discharge into a local tributary, and subsequent flow to the West Fork of Kickapoo Creek, Inskeep allegedly refused to turn off the pump.
Later that day, the indictment alleges Inskeep refused to hire waste haulers to remove the waste, and indicated his possible intention to pump the waste from the lagoon to a tributary located on his property although environmental officials say they told him that such an action was illegal.
“The defendant is charged with pumping over a million gallons of animal waste into the environment,” said Granta Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. “The government will prosecute those whose illegal actions pollute our natural resources.”
On February 16, 2001, an Illinois Circuit Court judge ordered the dairy to immediately stop discharging wastes into the lagoon. The indictment alleges that on February 16 and 17, 2001, Inskeep began pumping waste from the lagoon through a flexible hose to a tributary that flowed downhill from the dairy, discharging more than one million gallons of waste and manure and lowering the level of wastewater in the lagoon by nine inches.
If convicted, Inskeep could face up to 36 months in prison as well as a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. A summons will be issued for Inskeep to appear in federal court in Peoria, Illinois for arraignment at a date to be determined by the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.
“Clean water is a valuable natural resource, and these allegations suggest a blatant disregard for the laws that protect them,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly Johnson of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department takes violations of the laws that protect our waters very seriously and will prosecute such violations to the full extent of the law.”
This case was investigated by Special Agents of the EPA, the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Fish Passages to Spawning Habitats Eased in 19 StatesWASHINGTON, DC, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Fisheries Program and partners in 19 states will spend a combined $7.4 million this year to remove or bypass more than 150 barriers to fish passage.
The popular National Fish Passage Program enlists municipal, state, tribal and other federal agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, to open habitat in the Nation's streams and rivers by removing or bypassing dams and other obstructions as well as improving or replacing culverts under roads or railroad tracks. Partner participation is strictly voluntary.
Many small dams set for removal or bypass date back to the American and Industrial revolutions. Many were built to accommodate early barge traffic, or provide power, or irrigation to a fledgling economy. As all uses were superseded by other, more efficient systems, the dams were left abandoned, providing no function other than fragmenting habitat and dampening fish populations.
Completion of the 2005 projects will open more than 1,500 miles of waterways and more than 5,000 acres, allowing fish to access a considerable amount of important historic spawning and rearing habitats that were unavailable for years.
"The National Fish Passage Program is a model for similar programs," said Matt Hogan, Acting Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "We not only have a long list of partners, we have a long waiting list of partners anxious to get on board. And because they all share in the cost, taxpayer dollars go a long, long way. Everybody - and nearly every fish - is a winner."
Hogan pointed to the Penobscot River Restoration Project in Maine as an example of the Program's success and appeal. This multi-year project involves nine partners and is expected to remove or bypass three large dams at a cost of $25 million.
The opening of the Penobscot River will not only benefit fish, but also nearby communities who expect to see increased fish runs and more recreational anglers in the years ahead.
New Jersey Offers Federal Funds to Highlands Forest Owners
TRENTON, New Jersey, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell today has announced the availability of $150,000 in federal funds for private forestland owners in the New Jersey Highlands to help promote sound forest stewardship.
"The sound management of private forestlands in the Highlands is paramount to preserving the natural resources of this region," said Campbell. "The funding will provide greater opportunities for private landowners to receive the technical assistance that they need to be more proactive and environmentally responsible in the management of their forest resources."
The New Jersey Forest Service will provide reimbursement of up to a maximum of $3,000 spent by a qualifying landowner to develop a forest stewardship plan for their property. The grants are funded by the US Forest Service through the Forest Stewardship Program.
Private forestland owners with 10 or more acres of woodlands in the Highlands and no prior forest management plans are encouraged to apply. Applications are due by October 15.
The Forest Stewardship grant program is intended to encourage management of private forestland for non-commodity benefits, such as wildlife habitat, recreational value and water quality, as well as traditional commodities such as timber and wood products. Stewardship promotes long-term active management while emphasizing consideration of all the forest resources and benefits.
Applicants who receive funding are required to maintain and implement their forest stewardship plans for a 10-year period.
The New Jersey Highlands is a hilly, forested area in the northwest part of the state that encompasses 1,250 square miles dotted with lakes. It stretches from Phillipsburg in the southwest to Ringwood in the northeast, and lies within portions of seven counties and 87 municipalities. The larger Highlands region runs from Connecticut through New York and New Jersey into Pennsylvania.
The Highlands region is a critical source of drinking water. Surface and ground water sources in the Highlands supply water to 292 municipalities and 16 counties in New Jersey. The region produces one-third of the state's potable water and supplies some or all of the drinking water to approximately 64 percent of New Jersey residents. In addition to water resources, the Highlands region contains exceptional natural resources such as forests, wetlands, watersheds and plant and wildlife species habitat.
New Jersey's forestlands cover 2.1 million acres of the state, of which 62 percent is owned and managed by private individuals and enterprises.
DEP's Forestry Service administers the Forest Stewardship Program. To receive a grant application, call NJ Forest Service Northern Regional Office at (973) 827-1325 or the Trenton Office at (609) 292-2531.
Whole Foods Market Chooses Hollywood for First Lifestyle Store
LOS ANGELES, California, September 23, 2005 (ENS) - Healthy foods grocery chain the Whole Foods Market is entering the wider field of lifestyles retailing. On October 28, Whole Foods will open the doors to the company's first lifestyle store, offering environmentally conscious clothing and housewares.
The store will be a separate space next to the West Hollywood Whole Foods Market location, within the same West Hollywood shopping complex.
The Whole Foods Market Lifestyle concept was first incorporated in the Austin flagship store that opened in March 2005. An area of the store is dedicated to offering lifestyle products beyond food.
"The development and incorporation of Whole Foods Market Lifestyle reflects the company's founding values into other aspects of life," said Marci Frumkin, marketing director, Whole Foods Market Southern Pacific Region.
"Our core values include a commitment to sustainable agriculture, expanding the market for organic products, and utilizing wise environmental practices. The new lifestyle store is another example how Whole Foods Market leads by example within the context that the company knows best - educating consumers about organic foods, natural products, and ethical business practices."
The new Whole Foods Market Lifestyle selections range from organic blue jeans, organic cotton baby clothes, and recycled handbags to paints free of harmful volatile organic compounds, all providing options and education for a sustainable lifestyle. A beauty salon featuring organic products is part of the new store.
The 2,000-square-foot store was built using sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials-flooring, shelves, walls, paint, hemp curtains for the dressing rooms as well as reclaimed and reused furniture as displays and for sale.