Ag Department Buys 10,000 Tons of Food for Hurricane ReliefWASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Friday said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has purchased more than 20 million pounds, or 10,000 tons, of canned meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables to meet the needs of people displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"USDA continues to work with states in the Gulf region and beyond to ensure that food and other needs for evacuees are met," said Johanns. "Even as we are positioned to assist with Rita, we remain in constant contact with our federal, state and local counterparts to meet the immediate and long-term needs of those affected by the hurricanes."
About four million pounds of this food will restock USDA and state supplies that were used for Katrina relief. About 16 million pounds of this food will be used for Katrina and Rita disaster relief.
Additionally, USDA has already worked with Texas officials to prepare food stamp waivers in anticipation of current needs within the state. Also, USDA is extending streamlined services, put in place for Katrina evacuees, for child nutrition and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, programs.
On September 5, the USDA earmarked $50 million dollars to provide emergency food assistance to Hurricane Katrina survivors. To date, $25 million of those funds have been spent on emergency commodity purchases.
Congress Asked to Increase Renewable Energy FundingWASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - Thirty-one business, consumer, environmental, and energy policy organizations called today for higher funding levels in Fiscal Year 2006 for the U.S. Department of Energy's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
In a letter delivered today to Congressional appropriators in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, the groups noted that the appropriations bills approved earlier by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives provided funding overall that is essentially just level with Fiscal Year 2005 for most core sustainable energy programs but also include cuts in funding for the advanced hydropower turbine and wind energy programs.
The groups wrote, "The aftershocks of Hurricane Katrina are now breaking across U.S. energy markets; gasoline prices are now topping $3/gallon; energy imports are now at historic highs; and natural gas and home heating oil costs are now projected to increase dramatically this winter."
"Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies offer the best near-term and mid-term options for addressing these challenges while simultaneously creating domestic jobs, reducing greenhouse gases and regulated emissions, and enhancing national security," they wrote. "Consequently, we believe that level funding for these programs is simply not acceptable."
In their letter the groups asked Congress to increase long term research, development, and deployment funding for efficiency and renewables.
"The recently-enacted Energy Policy Act of 2005 increases authorizations substantially and, for a start, Congress should be appropriating funds at these levels, beginning with the FY'06 appropriations bills," they wrote.
The groups' letter follows the release of a report last week by the Republican Study Committee, a group of over 100 House Republicans, that called for elimination of applied research for renewable energy sources and the Energy Star Program operated jointly by the U.S. Energy Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It also comes following unconfirmed reports that the White House is contemplating 20 to 30 percent cuts in the core sustainable energy programs in its Fiscal Year 2007 budget request, including elimination of funding for the wind, geothermal, and concentrating solar accounts.
Farmers, Fishermen, Co-Author Defend Endangered Species ActSTOCKTON, California, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - A former Republican Congressman from California who co-authored the Endangered Species Act of 1973 joined farmers and fishermen today to support strong protections for endangered species and habitat.
Former Congressman Pete McCloskey rallied with California farmers and fishermen in Stockton to denounce H.R. 3824, a new bill sponsored by Representative Richard Pombo, a California Republican who represents Stockton and the surrounding area and chairs the House Resources Committee.
Pombo's bill would remove current protections to which endangered species are entitled in favor of more latitude for property owners.
The signatures of thousands of Californians who support the Endangered Species Act as currently written were delivered to Pombo's local office in Stockton.
"The Endangered Species Act protects the web of life that is Americaís natural heritage. Without it, we may not be blessed with the American bald eagle, the California condor or the Pacific salmon," declared McCloskey at the rally.
"We have a duty to prevent the extinction of species and the Act has done that well. Recovery of species will take time and that effort deserves full funding. Congress should reject any proposals, including the bill currently before the House of Representatives, that would weaken the protections for our nationís endangered species or the lands they need to recover," McCloskey said.
Last week, the House Resources Committee approved H.R. 3824. The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider the bill this week.
"California fishermen are wondering why congressmen are pushing to wipe out protections that restored cool, clean water to the Sacramento River and the multi-million dollar salmon fishery there. These sensitive ecosystems are valuable national assets which contribute to the U.S. economy by providing thousands of jobs as well as its healthiest food source," said Zeke Grader, executive director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermenís Associations.
The Endangered Species Act is a safety net for wildlife, fish and plants that are on the brink of extinction. Fishermen and farmers at the rally say Pomboís bill would weaken protections for endangered fish, plants, wildlife, and their habitat.
"This bill is a giveaway to developers. We should be working to keep farmers farming, not making it easier for these developers to pave over our Central Valley farmland," said Cindy Lashbrook, owner of River Dance Farms.
"It is important to protect endangered species in California and the Central Valley in order to protect agricultural lands, open space, clean water, provide recreational opportunities while supporting fishing jobs and local economies," said Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Alliance. "The Pombo bill would give developers and other special interests control over recovery of endangered species."
"The Endangered Species Act is vital to maintaining the river and ocean habitats upon which California fisheries depend," said Brian Stranko, executive director of California Trout. "As Californians, we care about protecting wildlife and wild places in our state and across America for our children and our grandchildren to enjoy. Maintaining a strong Endangered Species Act is crucial to upholding the conservation values that we share in California."
"This attack on the Endangered Species Act will hurt farmers and fishermen across California," said Earthjustice senior legislative representative Susan Holmes. "Congress has a responsibility to protect these species and represent the true feelings of many Californians, which is to save the Endangered Species Act."
New Jersey Workers Included in Toxic Release InspectionsTRENTON, New Jersey, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey has become the first state in the nation to include workers in inspections at industrial sites. The inspections are intended to help identify environmental health and public safety hazards and potential sources of toxic releases that include, but are not limited to, hazards resulting from an intentional terrorist attack.
The inspections will take place at the 101 facilities in the state covered by New Jersey's Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA), which requires them to implement risk management programs. These companies include water treatment plants, chemical manufacturers, food manufacturers and processors, pharmaceutical companies, refineries and warehouses.
Acting Governor Richard Codey said the move will provide greater protection for residents living near the industrial sites. "Greater participation by workers to identify and resolve potential threats involving the use of hazardous chemicals in the industrial process will make neighborhoods safer and is good business policy," he said. "We will work with New Jersey businesses to ensure this initiative improves risk prevention plans for each facility."
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell signed an administrative order that establishes procedures for employees and their representatives to participate in inspections, investigations or audits of facilities regulated by the law and its associated rules and regulations.
"New Jersey's newly adopted worker participation standard is a first-in-the-nation for the inspection of facilities that handle extraordinary hazardous substances," said Campbell. "Workers know their own facilities, and can help us strengthen protection of communities from the risk of catastrophic accidents."
In 2003, the DEP added reactive chemicals to the list of extraordinarily hazardous substances that trigger risk management planning requirements of TCPA. These chemicals can explode when accidentally exposed to air or water, or when they are improperly mixed with certain other chemicals. The force of the explosion can kill or permanently disable people outside the facility.
"We applaud DEP for making New Jersey the first state in the nation to take this important step to protect workers, communities and the environment," said Rick Engler, director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council, a coalition of 70 labor unions and environmental organizations.
"Workers are uniquely positioned to point out chemical hazards to DEP inspectors. Nobody knows the workplace better than the men and women who work there every day," Engler said.
The DEP also works with the Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force to oversee companies' implementation of best management practices at their facilities to reduce the risk of a terrorist attack.
TCPA rules require that all regulated facilities evaluate state of the art technologies every five years to reduce the risk of an accident and implement this technology "if cost effective," the DEP said.
The state of the art standard also applies for new processes when a company expands or changes operations.
New England's Air Quality Worse This YearBOSTON, Massachusetts, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - New Englanders experienced an increase in the number of poor air quality days this year, compared to 2004 and 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) New England regional office said today.
Based on preliminary data collected between May and September, there were 26 days when ozone monitors in New England recorded concentrations above levels considered healthy. By contrast, in 2004 there were 13 unhealthy ozone days and 2003 there were 17 unhealthy ozone days.
The number of unhealthy ozone days in each state this summer were - 20 days in Connecticut (compared to 6 in 2004); 20 days in Massachusetts (8 in 2004); 8 days in Rhode Island (4 in 2004); 4 days in Maine (one in 2004); 3 days in New Hampshire (4 in 2004); and no days in Vermont (one in 2004).
The increase in the number of days with unhealthy air this year was directly related to the increase in the number of hot days this year.
Sunlight and high temperatures speed the formation of ground-level ozone smog, and many areas of New England had more days exceeding 90 degrees this summer than during the past two summers.
Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog, is unhealthy when average concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million over an eight hour period.
Smog is formed when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen chemically react in the presence of sunlight. Cars, trucks and buses give off the majority of the pollution that makes smog.
Fossil fuel burning at electric power plants, which run at high capacities on hot days, gives off significant amounts of smog-making pollution. Gas stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.
Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, and aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases. It can also make people who are vulnerable more susceptible to respiratory infection.
Although warm temperatures this summer led to an increase in unhealthy days, over the long term, New England has experienced a decreasing number of ozone days, and peak ozone concentrations have decreased over the last 30 years.
In 1983, New England had 90 unhealthy days, compared with 26 this summer. Overall, ozone concentrations in New England have decreased by more than 20 percent since 1980.
Historical charts of unhealthy air days from 1983 through 2005 are available for each state on EPA New Englandís website at: www.epa.gov/ne/airquality/standard.asp. A preliminary list of the unhealthy readings recorded this summer by date and monitor location, and corresponding air quality maps for each day, can be found at: www.epa.gov/region1/airquality/o3exceed-05.asp.
Florida Takes Delivery of Five Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - The five cars in Floridaís first hydrogen fuel cell fleet arrived at Wekiwa Springs State Park on Friday. Florida Lt. Governor Toni Jennings joined representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Ford Motor Company, BP America and Progress Energy Florida at the park to launch the fleet.
Through a federal government program, Ford is supplying Floridaís Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Progress Energy with the five hydrogen powered Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles. BP America will supply the cars with hydrogen fuel through a grant from the state of Florida.
"Florida is advancing pollution-free hydrogen technology for the benefit of our citizens and our environment," said Jennings. "Floridaís public-private partnerships are introducing next generation technologies that, over time, will reduce our reliance on traditional fuels and strengthen the nationís energy security while protecting natural resources."
The hydrogen demonstration project is part of an initiative announced in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Energy. Florida is one of three states selected to participate.
Douglas Faulkner, DOE acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said, "This project is part of our learning demonstrations which are important to measuring progress and identifying real-world technical challenges that can be addressed by our research programs."
One of the hydrogen powered cars will give DEP park rangers a pollution free ride during everyday operations at the park, which attracts nearly 185,000 visitors annually. The 8,000-acre park protects the headwaters of the Wekiva River and features several freshwater springs.
Two more vehicles will be utilized by DEPís Central Regulatory District for field inspections.
Progress Energyís energy efficiency specialists and customer account managers will use the remaining two hydrogen fueled cars at their Jamestown Operations Center.
"Alternative energy efforts like this are small steps on a long road, but they are important for our future," said Bill Habermeyer, president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida.
Hydrogen can power cars as a source of power for a fuel cell. A fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which powers the car and emits only steam. Worldwide, energy companies, automakers and oil companies are investing more than $2 billion annually on research and development to advance hydrogen technology as a new, sustainable source of energy.
"The Focus FCV is the most sophisticated environmental vehicle Ford has ever developed and its success is an important milestone in Fordís long-term strategy to move toward hydrogen and alternative fuel-powered cars and trucks as viable consumer transportation options," said Greg Frenette, manager of the Focus Fuel Cell Vehicle demonstration fleet for Ford Motor Company.
Howard Miller, BPís general manager of public affairs, said, "From BPís perspective, hydrogen offers promise as a long-term fueling option as we look down the road at alternative energy sources to help America meet its energy demand, improve local air quality and assist motorists in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from their vehicles."
Florida also became the first customer for Fordís new 12-passenger hydrogen shuttle bus in 2004, ordering eight of the hydrogen buses for use in the Orlando area. Florida currently has 28 mobile and stationary hydrogen demonstration projects underway, in development or in the planning stage.
Rum Distiller Bacardi Must Stop Polluting Atlantic Ocean
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the Bacardi Corporation to comply with the Clean Water Act. The agency says Bacardi has been violating limits for wastewater discharges into the Atlantic Ocean from its rum distillery in Catano, Puerto Rico.
Bacardi must meet limits on the amount of lead, zinc, copper and all other materials it currently discharges into the ocean. The EPA has issued Bacardi an administrative order for violating its permit, under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program.
"Following repeated attempts to come to a resolution, EPA determined that it was in the best interest of environmental protection to proceed with a unilateral order and require Bacardi to comply," said Alan Steinberg, EPA regional administrator, "If the company fails to comply, it will face stiff fines."
The order requires Bacardi to achieve compliance with permit limits. With this enforcement action, EPA is also incorporating interim limits for a period of up to 180 days to allow Bacardi to continue discharging while working to achieve compliance with the NPDES permit.
The interim limits will require that Bacardi treat its waste during this period to minimize pollutants discharged into the ocean. Steinberg said the EPA will be tracking Bacardi's progress and will take followup action to ensure that Bacardi achieves compliance with the Clean Water Act.