AmeriScan: September 8, 2006

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U.S. Rejects Utah Nuclear Waste Dump

WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Interior Department has rejected a plan to store 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods on an Indian reservation in Skull Valley, Utah.

The decision is the "best news Utah has received in a long time," said Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., a Republican.

A consortium of eight nuclear reactor operators, known as Private Fuel Storage (PFS), had arranged with the Goshute Indian tribe to build the 100-acre waste dump on the reservation, some 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

The decision, announced Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), could signal the end of the controversial proposal. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had approved a license for the site in February, but construction of the facility is contingent on the approval of the two Interior Department agencies.

The viability of the Skull Valley plan rested on the DOI's approval of either a rail spur across BLM land to Skull Valley or an intermodal transfer facility on BLM land to transfer the spent fuel to trucks, which would transport the casks of spent fuel to the site along existing roads.

But the BLM rejected the consortium's proposed revision of the Skull Valley land management plant need for construction and operation of the rail line. The BIA raised concerns about security, including the risk of a terrorist attack on the site, which is close to the Utah Test and Training range.

"PFS is dead. It's that simple," said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. "Without a lease to store the fuel or permission to transport it, PFS is left without a leg to stand on. Some people may say there is still a chance that PFS could pull this off, but that's hogwash."

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House Passes Horse Slaughter Ban

WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - American horses cannot be slaughtered for human consumption under legislation approved Thursday by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill passed by a vote of 263-146. Supporters of the ban successfully blocked a slew of amendments designed to weaken the bill, which would the Horse Protection Act to prohibit shipping, possessing, purchasing, selling or donating horses for slaughter for human consumption.

The intent of the bill is to force three foreign-owned slaughterhouses from processing horsemeat for export. Although few Americans consume horsemeat, there are several foreign nations - including France, Italy, Belgium and Japan - where it is popular and considered a ready alternative to beef.

Last year more than 90,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States and exported for human consumption - thousands more are shipped live to Canada and butchered there for human consumption abroad.

The bill was introduced in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) decision to ignore the provision passed last year by Congress that aimed to end the U.S. horsemeat trade. Language inserted into the USDA's fiscal year 2006 budget prohibited the use of funds to pay for federal inspections of horses prior to slaughter. Such inspections, carried out by the USDA's Food Inspection and Safety Service (FSIS) are required for the legal slaughter of horses and for export of horsemeat.

But last spring the USDA announced that it had accepted a petition by the three U.S. slaughterhouses - two in Texas and one in Illinois - to pay for inspections on a per-fee basis.

Advocates of the ban filed suit, but a federal judge ruled in favor of the the government.

"The USDA is blatantly circumventing clear Congressional intent," said Representative Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican. "Horses have never been raised for human consumption in America, this slaughter is done for export."

Shays said the bill "does not remove the rights of owners to do what they want with their horses."

"Owners can still humanely euthanize sick, dangerous or old horses," he told colleagues. "The way a society treats its animals, in particular horses, speaks to the core values and priorities of its citizens. Horses are no just companions or recreational animals they are a vital part of our nation's culture and history."

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U.S. Methyl Bromide Inventory Declining

WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - Data released Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show a steady decline in the aggregate methyl bromide inventory held by companies in the United States since 2003.

Methyl bromide is a widely used soil fumigant that is also a powerful ozone-depleting substance.

It is used to control many soil insects, diseases, nematodes, and weeds, as well as insects and other organisms present in stored or shipped commodities and storage, shipping, and processing facilities.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol called for the U.S. and other developed nations to halt production and consumption of the chemical by January 1, 2005, but the United States has obtained for additional exemptions for some users, arguing that there are not technically or economically feasible alternatives to the chemical.

A challenge by environmentalists to a 2004 EPA rule that implemented critical use exemptions for methyl bromide was rejected last month by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

In the United States, methyl bromide is used to some extent on more than 100 crops, but nearly 80 percent of preplant methyl bromide soil fumigation goes to strawberries, tomatoes, ornamentals and nursery crops, and peppers.

The data shows American inventory of the fumigant was held by 35 U.S. companies in the United States from 2003 to 2005.

It shows a continued decrease - approximately 16,422 metric tons in 2003, 12,994 metric tons in 2004, and 9,974 metric tons in 2005.

The EPA said this drop demonstrates that the United States is managing its domestic inventory appropriately. EPA's release of the aggregate inventory numbers was made possible by the conclusion of two lawsuits that had been brought to prevent the release of the aggregate data.

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Titanium Manufacturer Indicted for Hazardous Waste Crimes

NEW YORK, New York, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - A Long Island titanium manufacturer was indicted Thursday on federal criminal charges for illegally storing corrosive hazardous waste. The company, Lawrence Aviation Industries Inc. (LAI) - and its owner and operator Gerald Cohen - was found in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the illegal storage of more than 11 tons of corrosive waste. Furthermore, Cohen was charged with illegally operating two diesel generators at the company's principal place of business in Port Jefferson Station in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

Cohen was arrested Thursday and arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle.

If convicted of the criminal charges, Cohen faces a maximum sentence of 15 years of imprisonment, and Cohen and LAI each faces a fine of up to $50,000 for each day of the RCRA violations, and a $250,000 fine for the Clean Air Act violation.

In a separate action, the federal government filed a civil lawsuit against LAI, Cohen and six parcels of land under the federal Superfund statute to recover more than $8 million in clean-up costs previously incurred by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at LAI's manufacturing facility. The action includes a judgment of liability for future clean-up costs to be incurred at the LAI site.

The complaint alleges that soils, sediments, surface water, and groundwater at and around LAI's facility are contaminated.

The company began operating at the Port Jefferson Station site in 1959 and manufactured titanium sheets used primarily in the aeronautics industry. Cohen became the sole owner and operator of LAI in 1982.

Part of the manufacturing process required the use of large tanks containing corrosive acid and base liquids. The indictment charges that several years prior to April 2003, LAI stopped using two of the tanks in the manufacturing operations, and instead used them to store liquids and sludge.

In 2003, federal and state environmental officials tested the contents of the two tanks and determined that they contained corrosive hazardous waste. The indictment alleges that LAI and Cohen violated RCRA because the contents of the two tanks had not been disposed of in a timely manner and had been stored without a permit from EPA or DEC.

The indictment also charges that between June 2001 and July 17, 2003, LAI and Cohen operated two diesel generators to provide electricity at the site without obtaining a state or federal permits in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

A permit was required because the generators were capable of emitting 444 tons of nitrogen oxide per year, well in excess of the statutorily permissible emission of 25 tons per year in Suffolk County.

The indictment alleges that nitrogen oxide contributes to the formation of dangerous ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog.

The groundwater at the site is allegedly contaminated by a plume of trichloroethylene - a solvent used in manufacturing processes and characterized as a hazardous substance by EPA - that extends from the facility almost a mile towards Port Jefferson Harbor.

EPA has secured and disposed of tanks and drums of hazardous substances at the site and developed options for remediation of the contamination of the soil and water at and around the site. To date, EPA has expended over $8 million, and will continue to spend funds as the clean up of the site progresses.

"We are committed to protecting the public and our environment from the dangers of hazardous wastes, and soil and groundwater contamination," said U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf. "We will use every tool at our disposal, including criminal prosecutions and civil cost-recovery lawsuits, to ensure that those who pollute our environment are held accountable."

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U.S. Agrees to Review Environmental Impacts of Glen Canyon Dam

PHOENIX, Arizona, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to conduct further environmental studies on the impacts of Glen Canyon Dam on endangered fish of the Colorado River. The agreement settles a lawsuit with environmentalists filed earlier this year against the bureau in a bid to protect the Grand Canyon and the humpback chub, an endangered Colorado basin fish.

The agreement specifies that the agency, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement by October 15, 2008.

The statement will assess the assess the impacts of current and modified operations of Glen Canyon Dam on the humpback chub and three other native fish species.

"We're pleased that the agencies will be conducting the studies without a protracted lawsuit," said Robin Silver, of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "Arizona's native fish are overwhelmingly imperiled, and only four of eight native fish species continue to exist in the Grand Canyon. The humpback chub will fail to recover and likely go extinct if action isn't taken to reverse the degradation posed by Glen Canyon Dam."

For more than a decade the Bureau of Reclamation has been required to modify the operations of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to reverse the dam's downstream impacts on Grand Canyon's river ecosystem. The plaintiffs in the case claim these efforts have failed to produce results.

In October 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey released an evaluation of the management program confirming that recovery of the humpback chub was not being achieved.

"It is past time for a new assessment on the dam's operations," said Living Rivers Conservation Director John Weisheit. "At least now the issue will be reopened for public review."

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Report Blasts Otero Mesa Drilling Plan

SANTA FE, New Mexico, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plan for drilling in the Otero Mesa grasslands is poorly constructed and fails to protect the environment, New Mexico's top natural resource official said this week.

The BLM has "no idea" what the cumulative impact of drilling within the 2-million acre Otero Mesa, said New Mexico Natural Resources Secretary Joanna Prukop.

A report released Wednesday by Prukop and a coalition of environmental groups analyzed BLM records and concluded the agency's past record in New Mexico indicates it will be unable to protect the Otero Mesa environment from oil and gas drilling. It criticizes the federal agency for rubberstamping oil and gas drilling without fully considering the environmental consequences.

"Otero Mesa is fragile - there is no room or excuse for mistakes in this area," said Nada Culver, co-author and senior counsel for The Wilderness Society. "As this report shows, the risks to Otero Mesa from oil and gas development are unacceptable. Some places should not be drilled, and Otero Mesa is one of those places."

The Otero Mesa area includes one of the largest remaining intact swaths of Chihuahuan Desert grassland and is home to an array of wildlife, including several endangered species.

The remote area also holds a supply of clean ground water large enough to supply more 800,000 people or half of New Mexico's current population. Critics of Otero Mesa drilling fear the oil and gas development could contaminate this supply.

The BLM plan would allow drilling on all but some 124,000 acres of the area, including 36,000 acres the agency will permanently protect as habitat for the endangered Aplomado falcon.

New Mexico had asked for 640,000 acres to be set aside as a national conservation area. The state has filed suit to block the plan, citing its failure to protect sensitive ecosystems and groundwater supplies within the rare desert grassland.

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Drugs, Chemicals Foul Kansas City's Blue River Basin

KANSAS CITY, Missouri, September 8, 2006 (ENS) - Prescription drugs, household and commercial cleaning compounds, pesticides and other chemicals have been detected in the Blue River Basin, which straddles the Missouri-Kansas border.

The Blue River Basin encompasses roughly one-half of the Kansas City metropolitan area south of the Missouri River with 54 percent of the basin located in Kansas and 46 percent in Missouri.

A report released Thrusday by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the City of Kansas City, Missouri Water Services Department, details the findings of a study that began in 1998 and ended in October 2004. During this time period, researchers analyzed nutrients, common household chemicals and personal care products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, bacteria and bacteria sources, and aquatic organisms in streams.

"Stream water quality in the Blue River Basin is influenced by a variety of factors including urbanization, point-source discharges, urban runoff physical stream conditions, and complex water quality processes," said Donald Wilkison, a USGS hydrologist and primary author of the report.

As one of 770 cities in the United States with a combined storm and sanitary sewer system, Kansas City is developing plans to control combined sewer overflows into Blue River and Brush Creek during intense rainstorms.

This study characterizes the water quality of receiving streams, provides a better understanding of the myriad of factors that influence water quality in the Blue River Basin, and provides scientific data to assist in the overflow control plan development.

Sites downstream from wastewater treatment plants had the highest concentrations and loads of nutrients, household chemicals, personal care products and pharmaceuticals in the basin.

The highest concentrations and loads occurred in lower Indian Creek, the lower and middle reaches of the Blue River, and lower Brush Creek.

Water quality issues in the basin are metropolitan in scope, contaminants originate from both sides of the state lines and are similar in scope when viewed from a basin-wide perspective, Wilkison said.

"Primarily during and immediately after large storms, a combined storm and sanitary sewer system that underlies part of the basin affects stream water quality; however, many other factors such as nonpoint source pollution, treated wastewater effluent, and habitat loss also adversely affect the water quality and ecological condition of basin streams," he said.