AmeriScan: September 28, 2005

* * *

2001 Explosion Cost One Man His Life, Motiva $23.7 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - Motiva Enterprises LLC has agreed to pay $12 million to settle a joint federal–state civil lawsuit arising from a catastrophic explosion in 2001 at the company’s former Delaware City refinery that killed one employee, injured several others, and caused a massive discharge of spent sulfuric acid from a ruptured tank.

The Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Delaware announced the settlement Tuesday.

In addition to the $12 million civil penalty, Motiva will finance a series of environmental projects valued at more than $4 million and reimburse the United States and Delaware for over $170,000 in response costs.

The settlement resolves claims against Motiva under the federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Superfund statute, and numerous state environmental statutes.

On July 17, 2001, a 415,000-gallon tank at the Delaware City Refinery exploded while containing spent sulfuric acid, a mixture of sulfuric acid, water and hydrocarbons. More than one million gallons of sulfuric acid were released from the tank farm and 100,000 gallons spilled into the Delaware River, killing an estimated 2,400 fish and 240 crabs.

In 2004, Motiva sold the Delaware City refinery to the Premcor Refining Group Inc., which has agreed to join the settlement and to institute a series of controls valued at $7.5 million, to improve safety at the refinery.

The combined total of nearly $23.7 million in civil penalties, environmental projects, injunctive relief, and response costs is one of the largest settlements secured in an enforcement action involving violations of environmental laws at one facility. The civil penalty is the largest ever collected in Delaware for environmental violations.

In January 2002, OSHA issued a Citation & Notification of Penalty to Motiva citing willful violations which Motiva later settled for a total of $132,000. In July 2003, Motiva pleaded no contest to criminally negligent homicide and assault charges brought by the state attorney general. As a result, the presiding state judge ordered the company to pay $296,000 in penalties.

In September 2003, Motiva agreed to pay $36.4 million to the widow and family of the worker who died. The amounts of settlements Motiva reached with other injured employees have not been made public.

Most recently, in March 2004, as part of a criminal plea agreement with the United States Department of Justice in which Motiva pleaded guilty to negligently endangering its workers at the refinery and felony violations of the CWA, Motiva was ordered to pay a $10 million fine and to serve a three-year term of probation.

“This settlement closes a tragic chapter in the history of the Delaware City refinery,” said Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner. “While nothing can erase the human and environmental impacts resulting from this event, we have made a number of changes on a state level as a result, including the enactment of Delaware’s Above Ground Storage Tank Act and our enforcement action requiring enhancements to the refinery’s mechanical integrity programs. Those, in addition to the improvements that will come from this settlement, will help ensure that this facility operates more safely.”

The tank explosion led to the passage of Delaware’s Jeffrey Davis Above Ground Storage Tank Act and a state enforcement action requiring an audit of and improvements to the refinery’s mechanical integrity programs. Jeffrey Davis was the worker killed in the explosion.

“Motiva’s conduct was inexcusable,” said Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady. “Nothing we do can undo the harm to the workers and their families but I trust all companies will take a lesson from this civil matter and our criminal prosecution and realize that we will not tolerate this type of behavior in Delaware.”

“This accident would likely have been averted by a stringent tank inspection and repair program. Although Motiva saved thousands of dollars in putting off the inspection of Tank 393, it has now paid more than $58 million as a consequence of its actions,” said Rudolph Contreras, Civil Chief, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware. “This fact alone should be a clear message to other companies that cutting corners on safety and the environment makes no economic sense.”

“This is the largest Clean Water Act settlement in the history of Delaware,” said Donald Welsh, EPA regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic region. “In addition to Motiva paying a substantial penalty, today’s settlement requires Premcor, the current owner of the refinery, to take immediate concrete steps to ensure compliance with environmental and safety regulations so that the tragic events of July 2001 will never be repeated.”

* * *

$70 Million Granted to Support Habitat Conservation Plans

WASHINGTON, DC, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - More than $70.5 million in grants has been awarded to 26 states to support conservation planning and purchase of habitat for threatened and endangered fish, wildlife, and plant species, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Tuesday. The grants are awarded through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund.

The fund this year provides $8.5 million through the Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants Program; $48.6 million through the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grants Program; and $13.4 million through the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program.

The three programs were established to help reduce potential conflicts between the conservation of threatened and endangered species and land development and use.

"Recovery of threatened and endangered species cannot be accomplished without the active support of private landowners," said Norton. "These grants will enable our state partners to work cooperatively with landowners, communities, and tribes to restore and protect habitat and undertake other management actions that will benefit dozens of imperiled species across the nation."

Authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, the grants enable states to work with private landowners, conservation groups and other agencies to initiate conservation planning efforts and acquire and protect habitat to support the conservation of threatened and endangered species.

Under the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Program, the Service provides grants to states or territories for land acquisitions associated with approved Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs).

These HCPs, which are agreements between a landowner and the Service, allow a landowner to take threatened or endangered species in the course of otherwise lawful activities when that landowner agrees to conservation measures designed to minimize and mitigate the impact of taking.

HCPs may also be developed by a county or state to cover certain activities of all landowners within their own jurisdiction; it may address multiple species. There are more than 469 HCPs currently in effect covering 588 separate species on 40 million acres. The grants are targeted to help landowners who want to undertake proactive conservation work on their lands to conserve imperiled species.

Among recipients of the Habitat Conservation Land Acquisition grants is the state of Washington, with a $7,417,805 grant to purchase habitat to support the Plum Creek Central Cascades Habitat Conservation Plan.

The Plum Creek Timber Company developed this HCP on 124,000 of its acres.

In part, this grant will result in the purchase of 600 acres in Okanogan County that will be added to a regional conservation project protecting over 6,000 acres and 10 miles of stream frontage of mature conifer and riparian habitat corridors used by 40 priority species including northern spotted owls, grizzly bears, gray wolves, lynx, bull trout, and salmon in the Methow River Watershed.

The Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Program provides grants to states and territories to support the development of Habitat Conservation Plans, through funding of baseline surveys and inventories, and document preparation.

In Indiana and Michigan, for example, an $880,000 HCP Planning Assistance Grant will allow planning to begin for a multi-state Mitchell's Satyr Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan to be developed jointly by the Indiana and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources through a three year planning process.

The plan is needed "to efficiently secure incidental take permits to conduct management activities for this endangered butterfly in occupied habitat," the agency said.

The Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program provides funds to states and territories to acquire habitat for endangered and threatened species in approved recovery plans. Acquisition of habitat to secure long term protection is often an essential element of a comprehensive recovery effort for a listed species. One of this year's grants will provide $438,969 to preserve a portion of the 4,000 acre Corbett Ranch in Willacy County, Texas.

The parcel features dense thornscrub that is optimum endangered ocelot habitat, and is the largest continuous patch of ocelot habitat remaining on private land in the Rio Grande Valley. This ranch also contains thousands of individuals of endangered Texas ayenia shrub (Ayenia limitaris), which may constitute the largest known population in the United States. Additionally, a portion of the northern shore of La Sal Vieja, one of only three hypersaline inland lakes in South Texas, will be preserved. This lake supports Western snowy plovers, long-billed curlews, and least terns.

For a complete list of the 2005 grant awards for these programs see the Services Endangered Species Grants home page at http://endangered.fws.gov/grants/

* * *

Alaska Losing Its Wetlands to Climage Change

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - Lakes and wetlands in the Kenai Peninsula of south-central Alaska are drying at a significant rate, new research from a Canadian team shows. The shift seems to be driven by climate change, and could endanger waterfowl habitats and hasten the spread of wildfires.

In a paper published in the August 2005 issue of the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Eric Klein and his colleagues document a andscape shift from wetlands to woodland and forest in the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands.

The trend fits within a global picture of drying wetlands in northern latitudes, with similar changes already appearing in lower latitudes. Klein, a biologist who did his graduate research with Alaska Pacific University, says the transformation of Alaska's landscape corresponds with an increase in temperatures over the past 100 years. "When you look at the climatologic data, it shows a warming trend. This is just one of the physical manifestations of that trend that is hard to refute."

The researchers compared aerial photos of the Kenai Peninsula taken in 1950 and 1996. Combined with extensive field study and analysis of vegetation, the research confirms that the Kenai Peninsula is becoming woodier and drier.

In the areas studied, wooded areas increased from 57 percent to 73 percent from 1950 to 1996, while wetland areas decreased from five percent to one percent.

The results confirm what the researchers could see for themselves. "It's very clear when you fly over closed basin lakes, many of which are the kettle ponds left after the glaciers receded," says Klein. "They have a kind of apron, or area between the water and mature forest, and you can see it getting larger as the water goes down."

Global temperatures have increased by about 0.6°C over the past 100 years. The rate of temperature increase from 1976 to the present has been double that from 1910 to 1945 -- greater than at any other time during the last 1,000 years.

Over the past 30 years, temperatures in the Kenai Peninsula have increased 0.7°C. In the last 15 to 25 years, species such as dwarf birch, blueberries and black spruce have grown up in areas where wetlands had existed for 8,000 to 12,000 years.

"These areas used to be soggy bogs with sphagnum peat moss, and no shrubs or trees," says Dr. Ed Berg, an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The evidence for this is that when you dig down into the peat, you don't see any stems or shrubs. Had they grown there in the past, they would have been preserved because peat preserves things very well."

Wetlands are hotspots for biodiversity. The shift to woodland and forest means loss of many types of wetland vegetation and fewer habitats for migratory birds. The greater forest cover also creates a continuous swath of vegetation that helps wildfires to spread more quickly.

Similar drying is happening outside the Kenai Peninsula. "It's certainly happening in Alaska on a very broad scale," says Dr. Berg. "Much of the interior is showing the same kind of drying pattern."

If the warming trend continues, Alaska's lakes and wetlands will continue to disappear, creating a dryer landscape in the long term.

Klein says that Alaska's transformation is another piece of evidence in the climate change puzzle. "The bottom line is that a change is happening," he says. "There is an overall environment shift occurring in Alaska, and especially in the northern hemisphere. I think it's a bioindicator of climate change and what is happening to the planet as a whole."

* * *

More Contaminants Found at Old Ford Superfund Site

NEW YORK, New York, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with the Ford Motor Company, requiring Ford to reevaluate contamination remaining at the Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund site located in the Borough of Ringwood, New Jersey.

Ford has removed over 13,000 tons of waste materials from the site. These wastes contained hazardous substances including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls.

The EPA has determined that further investigation of the contamination is necessary because additional wastes have been found on-site. EPA also ordered the Borough of Ringwood, the owner of a large portion of the site, to participate and cooperate in the investigation.

"EPA is committed to ensuring that the community is protected from the hazardous substances disposed of at the Ringwood Mines site," said EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg. "We look forward to working with the public as the investigation proceeds, and sharing information as it becomes available."

The 455 acre site operated as an iron mine from the 1700s through the 1930s. In 1965, a subsidiary of Ford purchased property in Ringwood, which is now part of the site. From 1967 through 1971, Ford's waste hauler disposed of waste materials at the site from its Mahwah automobile assembly plant, including paint sludge and waste contained in drums.

In 1982, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection sampled both ground water and water present on the surface of the site, and found VOCs, lead and arsenic. After evaluating information provided by the New Jersey agency, the EPA added the site to the National Priorities List of the most contaminated hazardous waste sites in September 1983, known as the Superfund List.

From 1984 through 1987, Ford performed a study at the site to determine the nature and extent of contamination. This study was performed with EPA oversight, and identified various paint sludge disposal areas. Sampling results of the paint sludge showed that the sludge contained lead, arsenic, chromium, naphthalene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, trichloroethene and low levels of PCBs.

The study also found that while ground water contained arsenic, lead and thallium above safe drinking water levels, the public water supply was not impacted. In 1987, EPA ordered Ford to remove the paint sludge, and the company removed approximately 7,000 cubic yards of sludge and related soil from the site.

The EPA selected a long-term cleanup plan for the site in September 1988. Since known areas of paint sludge had been removed and contaminants from the site were not entering the public water supply, the EPA selected a cleanup plan consisting of long-term environmental monitoring. The results showed that the site no longer posed a threat to the public or environment, and EPA formally deleted the site from the Superfund List in November 1994.

Ford has returned to the site several times since it came off the Superfund List to remove additional paint sludge and drums that were found by the community. In December 2004, Ford began a site-wide field reconnaissance survey to locate additional deposits of paint sludge. Preliminary findings of this survey indicate that significant amounts of municipal solid waste are found with the paint sludge. The results of this survey will be used to plan the new investigation.

In accordance with the terms of the September 21, 2005 agreement between EPA and Ford, the company will perform the investigation subject to penalties of up to $3,000 a day for violations of the agreement. The agreement also requires Ford to pay over $226,000 to EPA for the agency's past costs. Additionally, on September 21, the EPA ordered the Borough of Ringwood to participate with Ford in the investigation of the site.

* * *

Giant Hybrid Grass Could Be Useful Fuel Source

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - Giant miscanthus, a hybrid grass that can grow 13 feet high, may be a valuable renewable fuel source, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The perennial grass, sometimes referred to as elephant grass or E-grass, grows from an underground stem-like organ called a rhizome. Miscanthus, a crop native to Asia and a relative of sugarcane, drops its slender leaves in the winter, leaving behind tall bamboo-like stems that can be harvested in early spring and burned for fuel.

Rhizomatous grasses such as miscanthus are very clean fuels, said UI doctoral student Frank Dohleman. Nutrients such as nitrogen are transferred to the rhizome to be saved until the next growing season, he said.

Burning miscanthus produces only as much carbon dioxide as it removes from the air as it grows, said doctoral student Emily Heaton. That balance means there is no net effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which is not the case with fossil fuels, she said.

Besides being a clean, efficient and renewable fuel source, Miscanthus also is easy to grow. Upon reaching maturity, Miscanthus has few needs as it outgrows weeds, requires little water and minimal fertilizer and thrives in untilled fields, Heaton said. In untilled fields, various wildlife species make their homes in the plant's leafy canopy and in the surrounding undisturbed soil.

Illinois researchers have found that miscanthus grown in the state has greater crop yields than in Europe, where it has been used commercially for years, Long said. Full-grown plants produce 10-30 tons per acre dry weight each year. Miscanthus yields in lowland areas around the Alps, where the climate is similar to the Midwest, are at least 25 tons per acre dry weight, wrote Heaton and colleagues in a paper published in 2004 in the journal "Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change."

Last year, Illinois researchers obtained 60 tons per hectare (2.47 acre), Long said at the BA Festival of Science.

Using a computer simulator, Heaton predicted that if just 10 percent of Illinois land mass was devoted to miscanthus, it could provide 50 percent of Illinois electricity needs. Using miscanthus for energy would not necessarily reduce energy costs in the short term, Heaton said, but there would be significant savings in carbon dioxide production.

The Illinois miscanthus crop began three years ago when Heaton planted 400 Miscanthus rhizomes, which were generated from three rhizomes donated by the Turfgrass Program in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences. Because Miscanthus is sterile, cuttings of Miscanthus rhizomes must be used to create new plants.

Now in their third year, the three 33 by 33 feet miscanthus plots at the intersection of South First Street and Airport Road in Savoy, Illinois, are considered mature. Their 10 foot tall stems are twice as high as switchgrass, a prairie grass native to Illinois. Grown side by side, Miscanthus produces over twice as much biomass as switchgrass, Heaton said.

The next step, said Stephen Long, a UI professor of crop sciences and of plant biology, is to demonstrate how miscanthus goes from a plant to a power source. Existing U.S. power plants could be modified to use miscanthus for fuel as in Europe, he said.

Long is working with researchers at the Institute of Genomic Biology to determine whether miscanthus could be converted to alcohol, which could be used as fuel.

* * *

Nominations Open for 2006 National Wetlands Awards

WASHINGTON, DC, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - Each year the environmental community comes together to honor individuals who have dedicated their time and energy to protecting U.S. wetlands. Nomination forms for the 2006 National Wetlands Awards Program are now available. The deadline for submitting nominations is December 15, 2005.

The Washington, DC based Environmental Law Institute, an independent, nonprofit research and educational organization has presented the National Wetlands Awards since 1989. The awards program recognizes individuals from across the country who have demonstrated extraordinary effort, innovation, and excellence at the regional, state, or local level. Organizations and federal employees are not eligible.

The Environmental Law Institute recognizes six categories - Education and Outreach, Science Research, Conservation and Restoration, Landowner Stewardship, State, Tribal and Local Program Development, and Wetland Community Leader.

A committee of wetland experts representing federal and state agencies, academia, conservation groups, and private sector organizations selects the Award winners. Awardees will be recognized at a Capitol Hill ceremony in May 2006.

The efforts of National Wetlands awardees serve to educate the public about the value of wetlands, the programs that are available to protect and restore wetlands, and the value of cooperation.

The National Wetlands Awards Program is directed and managed by the Environmental Law Institute, and enjoys the sponsorship of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA Fisheries, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and Federal Highway Administration.

For a copy of the 2006 National Wetlands Awards nomination form, visit ELI’s website at http://www2.eli.org/nwa/nwaprogram.htm and download the form. For more information on the program, contact Roxanne Thomas at (202) 939-3827 or e-mail wetlandsawards@eli.org.

You may also write to the National Wetlands Awards Program, Environmental Law Institute, 2000 L Street, NW, Suite 620, Washington, DC 20036.

* * *

$75,000 Grantham Prize to Honor Top Environmental Reporting

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, September 28, 2005 (ENS) - The largest journalism prize in North America was announced Monday to honor outstanding reporting on the environment by journalists in the United States and Canada. The Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment will provide a $75,000 cash award each year to one journalist or a team of journalists in recognition of exemplary reporting on the environment.

The Grantham Prize will be administered by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography. Funding for the prize is provided by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.

The deadline for entries is March 24, 2006, with the winning journalist or reporting team announced in July 2006.

"We are living in a world that tragically underestimates environmental problems. Independent and accurate journalism offers great hope in this regard. We believe that this prize will highlight the need for insightful coverage and the awareness such reporting can bring about," said Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham, founders of The Grantham Foundation.

"The public deserves ready access to the kind of information and news that only outstanding independent journalism can provide," they said. "This is one way to give that kind of reporting the honor, respect, and visibility it needs."

The $75,000 prize will be awarded annually to an individual journalist or team of journalists in print, broadcast, or books, whose work exemplifies extraordinary coverage of environmental issues and helps lead to constructive social change to address them.

"The Metcalf Institute is proud to work with The Grantham Foundation to establish this worthy prize," said Jackleen de La Harpe, executive director of the Metcalf Institute. "The Grantham Prize will call attention to extraordinary reporting on important and complex issues of the environment, goals that are solidly in line with the mission of the Metcalf Institute. We are committed to see this Prize take its place among journalism’s most honored award competitions."

The first call for entries for award candidates will be made in the fall of 2005, with an independent jury of respected journalists making the final decision on an award winner.

The first member of the five-person Prize Judging Panel to be named is Robert B. Semple, Jr., associate editor of the Editorial Pages at the "The New York Times." Semple won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his editorial writing on environmental issues. Four additional prize judges will be named shortly.

The Grantham family set up its foundation in 1997, recently renamed The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment. The foundation supports natural resource conservation programs both in the United States and internationally.

Jeremy Grantham is a widely respected Boston-based investment strategist and Hannelore Grantham is the foundation's director.

The Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting was established in 1997 with funding from three media foundations - the Belo Corporation, the Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, the Philip L. Graham Fund, as well as the Telaka Foundation, in honor of the late Michael P. Metcalf, a visionary and leader in journalism and publisher of "The Providence Journal Bulletin" from 1979-1987.

The Metcalf Institute provides science training for journalists and editors to help improve the accuracy and clarity of marine and environmental reporting and offers journalism fellowships in support of diversity and reporting on science and the environment.

Award criteria and other information on The Grantham Prize are available online at http://www.granthamprize.org.

* * *