AmeriScan: May 28, 2003

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Massachusetts Mercury Cuts of 90 Percent Called Possible

MONTPELIER, Vermont, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - Saying that Massachusetts can meet the challenge of regulating mercury pollution from power plants, a coalition of environmental groups released a report today that asks the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to insist on 90 percent reduction targets.

The DEP is preparing to issue draft rules that would control airborne mercury emissions from four Massachusetts power plants. The report seeks guarantees that each of the power plants be required to reduce emissions to protect nearby communities.

Coal fired power plants have been the largest unregulated source of mercury, producing more than one third of all mercury pollution in the United States. Massachusetts has committed to developing mercury emissions standards for coal fired power plants.

According to the report, issued by the National Wildlife Federation and member groups of the New England Zero Mercury Campaign, mercury contaminates all of the state's surface waters, and levels at the Quabbin Reservoir, a large drinking water reservoir, are up to five times as high as the EPA's human health standards for surface waters developed for the Great Lakes.

Mercury is toxic when eaten, inhaled or placed on the skin. At low concentrations, it may seem to have no effect, but symptoms may develop later or become noticeable with continued exposure, according to a 1996 Massachusetts report on the mercury problem. Toxicity from exposure during pregnancy can cause developmental delays later in children who appear normal at birth.

"We estimate that 118,000 women of childbearing age in Massachusetts are exposed annually to mercury levels that could harm their unborn children," said Eric Palola, director of the National Wildlife Federation's northeast regional office.

Citing a recent DEP report that says it is feasible to reduce emissions by 86 percent to 90 percent, Palola said, "Mercury is a persistent and particularly nasty neurotoxin, and this is why deep reductions are needed now."

The report notes that of the 67 air pollutants emitted from coal fired power plants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified mercury as the most problematic. Among its findings are that mercury levels in Boston's drinking source, the historic Quabbin Reservoir, are up to five times as high as the EPA health standard that was developed for the Great Lakes region.

Statewide fish consumption advisories are in effect across Massachusetts, and key wildlife species such as river otters, mink, and shorebirds have been found with highly elevated levels of mercury in their blood and tissues.

There is an increased risk of mercury poisoning for people who live near the power plants. The EPA found that up to 74 percent of the mercury exposure to people within 1.5 miles from a medium sized 375 megawatt plant came from that one power plant.

"While the problem of airborne mercury cannot be fully solved without federal air policy leadership, Massachusetts and a handful of other states can provide much needed leadership," says NWF's Palola. "In the face of irrefutable evidence, the Bush administration's so-called 'Clear Skies' initiative would actually relax current federal standards on mercury compliance for utilities."

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Egypt Withdraws from U.S. Trade Challenge of Biotech Foods

WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - The Egyptian government has announced that it will not be part of a U.S. led World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge to the European Union's moratorium on the introduction of genetically engineered crops. On May 13, the United States said that it would be joined by Argentina, Canada, and Egypt in filing a WTO case against Europe over "its illegal five year moratorium on approving agricultural biotech products." But the Egyptian government says that it has decided "not to become a party" to the WTO complaint.

A letter obtained by Friends of the Earth and the European Consumers' Organization, says, "The Government of Egypt took this decision in conscious emulation of the need to preserve adequate and effective consumer and environmental protection, and with the desire to reduce further distortions and impediments to international trade that may result due to the further pursuit of this matter within the WTO."

"Egypt's withdrawal shows that President [George W.] Bush is not aware of the deep level of concern about the safety of genetically engineered crops in the United States and abroad," said David Waskow, trade program director for Friends of the Earth, which is opposed to the WTO challenge.

"The United States has never established an adequate regulatory system for biotech crops, so it is no wonder that people do not trust these crops and do not want to be forced to eat them," said Larry Bohlen, health and environment programs director for Friends of the Earth.

"The EU's moratorium violates WTO rules," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on May 13. "People around the world have been eating biotech food for years. Biotech food helps nourish the world's hungry population, offers tremendous opportunities for better health and nutrition and protects the environment by reducing soil erosion and pesticide use," said Zoellick.

"We've waited patiently for five years for the EU to follow the WTO rules and the recommendations of the European Commission, so as to respect safety findings based on careful science. The EU's persistent resistance to abiding by its WTO obligations has perpetuated a trade barrier unwarranted by the EC's own scientific analysis, which impedes the global use of a technology that could be of great benefit to farmers and consumers around the world," Zoellick said.

Also today, a hunger relief group in the United Kingdom refuted the Bush administration assertion that Europe is worsening starvation through its moratorium on genetically engineered crops. ActionAid released a report asserting that these genetically modified (GM) crops "will not feed the world and could pose a considerable threat to poor farmers."

The report concludes that "rather than alleviating world hunger, the new technology is likely to exacerbate food insecurity, leading to more hungry people not less."

"The UK public should not be duped into accepting GM in the name of developing countries. GM does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger. What poor people really need is access to land, water, better roads to get their crops to market, education and credit schemes," said Matthew Lockwood, ActionAid's head of policy in a statement.

Many Europeans and Americans worry about the threat that GM crops pose to food, farming and the environment. There are fears of the long term health impacts from eating GM food, including the potential for allergic reactions that have forced the destruction of hundreds of tons of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybeans.

A Eurobarometer opinion poll in 2001 found that 70 percent of the European public does not want GM food, and 94 percent want to be able to choose whether or not they eat it.

American attitudes are similar. A United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service study released April 25 concluded, "Consumers' willingness to pay for food products decreases when the food label indicates that a food product is produced with the aid of modern biotechnology."

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One in Five ExxonMobil Shareholders Want Climate Action

IRVING, Texas, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - A resolution calling for a report on how ExxonMobil will respond to the growing pressure to develop renewable energy won support from 21 percent of shareholders at the ExxonMobil annual general meeting in Irving today. The 21 percent shareholder support for the renewables resolution represents roughly $42.34 billion worth of ExxonMobil stock and is up from 20.3 percent in 2002.

Supporters of the resolution say the vote counteracts ExxonMobil's campaign to convince shareholders and the public that global warming is not an issue.

But in a Corporate Citizenship Report issued today the company states, "We recognize that the risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant. Our approach is to take sensible, economic actions now to improve efficiency and reduce future global emissions."

A second and new resolution asking for a report on the risks and strategies on climate change attracted the support of an even stronger 22 percent of shareholders.

The climate change resolution was filed by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, and the state of Connecticut. The renewables resolution was filed by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order and the New York City Firefighters Pension Fund. Both were coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, CERES and Campaign ExxonMobil.

According to the filers, the vote totals reflect growing concern about the company's approach among mainstream institutional investors. In mid-May, the nation's two most powerful institutional shareholder evaluation services - Institutional Shareholder Services and the Investor Responsibility Research Center - released key analyses that are credited by many with moving more institutional investors to support the climate related resolutions.

In 2002, ExxonMobil explains in its report, the company announced an investment of $180 million in Stanford University's 10 year Global Climate and Energy Project. Sponsored also by GE and Toyota, the project unites scientific and engineering researchers from around the world in the search for new commercially viable technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investing Executive Director and Sisters of St. Dominic Sister Pat Daly said, "Faith based investors have had a banner year in 2003 when it comes to climate related proxy resolutions and the ExxonMobil vote is a major high point in that process."

Daly said, "We made a major effort in 2003 to reach beyond the world of the faith based community to attract the support of institutional investors who could be made to appreciate the very real hidden risks associated with companies that refuse to reckon with the consequences of their contributions to global warming. The ExxonMobil vote today makes it official that climate related risks are now a mainstream concern shared by mainstream investors."

A report released on May 13 by Claros Consulting in London, England, "Sleeping Tiger, Hidden Liabilities: Amidst Growing Risk and Industry Movement, ExxonMobil Stays Still," says that ExxonMobil is now alone among the four "supermajor" oil companies in refusing to take meaningful action to mitigate the growing risks posed by global warming.

The report noted that a host of government policies and trends emerging over the last year have "significantly increased" the climate related risks to the wealth of ExxonMobil shareholders. ExxonMobil was alone in not addressing those new realities, from emerging carbon constraints in the European Union to renewable energy mandates worldwide.

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Solar Panels Power Direct Mail Business

FARMINGDALE, New York, May 28 (ENS) - A $9.3 million solar system dedicated today will reduce a direct mail company's electricity costs and improve air quality for Long Island residents.

Over the next 25 years, Fala Direct Marketing, a direct mail and business communications firm could save as much as $12 million dollars in energy costs from its new solar system. Combined savings realized from the electricity generated by the solar system, better insulation and lower rooftop maintenance costs is expected to be approximately $305,000 per year.

The one megawatt solar system, large enough to generate electricity for more than 1,000 homes in the daytime, was designed and installed by PowerLight Corporation, using panels manufactured by Shell Solar.

Fala's rooftop system consists of 13,464 solar panels configured by PowerLight on a surface that covers some 102,700 square feet on three buildings.

"New York state continues to lead the nation in promoting new and alternative energy sources that help protect and enhance the quality of our environment," Governor George Pataki said of the project. "It demonstrates that solar power can be a practical and environmentally beneficial way to meet the electric needs of large commercial businesses on Long Island and throughout New York state."

The project is part of a coordinated statewide effort to foster energy conservation and efficiency through the deployment of alternative energy technologies, such as solar electricity.

Shell Solar's figures indicate that with Fala's reduction of the amount of fossil fuel generated electricity over the next 25 years, Long Island will avoid more than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 30 tons of nitrous oxides and 75 tons of sulfur dioxides.

This is roughly equivalent to the planting of 5,700 acres of trees, removing 3,900 cars from Long Island's roads, or not driving nearly 50 million miles. The solar system will also avoid the burning of almost 45,000 barrels of oil to produce the electricity.

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New York Scrap Tires Could Surface NFL Fields

ALBANY, New York, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - The largest tire recycling firm in North America is poised to establish three facilities in New York state that will recycle a total of six million tires per year. Recovery Technologies Group (RTG) Inc. plans facilities in Albany, Schenectady and Seneca County, which will create 100 new jobs.

Governor George Pataki today said, "This company will help us resolve a major environmental problem, while creating jobs in upstate New York. Instead of sending old tires to landfills where they pose a fire and health risk, we will use these tires to create new products and new jobs."

In March 2002, New York faced an illegal tire fire, with millions of tires igniting at an illegal tire dump outside of Waterford, about 11 miles northeast of Albany.

A 1999 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation report identified 116 unpermitted and unregistered waste tire stockpiles within the state believed to contain more than 23 million tires.

Based in Guttenberg, New Jersey, RTG last year kept more than 40 million tires out of landfills by converting them to new products. The company has provided recycled rubber used in National Football League fields, including Giants Stadium.

RTG president Martin Sergi said, "Our integrated tire recycling program will enable New York to recycle tires into a variety of useful products including sports fields, mulch, asphalt and molded products."

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said, "On average, we collect 30 to 50 tons of used tires per year which have to be transported to a tire recycling plant outside of the city. This new facility provides us with a destination right here in Albany where we can recycle tires and offers economic benefits for our city and its residents."

RTG facility in Albany will be an advanced tire recycling center that will employ what the company calls "just-in-time manufacturing" so that no tires will be stored on the site.

In Schenectady RTG will implement a new recycling process that will produce garden mulch out scrap tires.

New York Assemblyman Robert Prentiss said, "We now have greater means to clean up illegal tire dumps. Waste tires are a major health and environmental menace. Not only do they pose a serious potential fire threat, but they also are a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the West Nile virus."

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Mystery Beetle Threatening Ash Trees Identified

BELTSVILLE, Maryland, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - Of the more than 50 insect species identified by the Agricultural Research Service's Systematic Entomology Laboratory since 1999, an Asian beetle that feeds on ash trees is the most likely to become a serious pest.

Since its discovery near Detroit in May 2002, the emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis, has decimated the ash trees in parts of Michigan and forced quarantines to be imposed there and in parts of Ohio and Ontario, according to Luis Pons of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Ash is a hardwood that provides habitat for wildlife, ornamentals for landscapers, and wood for makers of handles, oars, baseball bats, furniture and baskets.

Researchers believe that the metallic green beetle, which feeds beneath the bark of green, white, and black ash trees, will cause damage rivaling that caused by the Asian longhorned beetle and Dutch elm disease.

The emerald ash borer probably entered this country about five years ago in wooden packing material, Pons says. When first found, the bug stumped authorities trying to identify it. They sought help from the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which, in turn, sent specimens to the Systematic Entomology Laboratory's Communications and Taxonomic Services Unit in Beltsville.

The unit, led by entomologist Robert Carlson, helps solve taxonomic problems and provides identifications needed for carrying out APHIS' Plant Protection and Quarantine program. It also assists individuals and other agencies.

Carlson sent a sample borer to Richard Westcott, a cooperating entomologist with Oregon's Department of Agriculture, who confirmed its suspected immigrant status. Eduard Jendek, an entomologist with the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Zoology in Bratislava, Slovakia, made the final identification.

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Ammonia Release Costs Bankrupt Firm $90,000

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, May 29, 2003 (ENS) - Failure to report the release of the hazardous chemical anhydrous ammonia from a malfunctioning refrigerator has cost the bankrupt Fleming Companies Inc. $90,000. Fleming is a supplier of consumer package goods to independent supermarkets and convenience stores.

The penalty will be included as a claim by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Fleming's pending bankruptcy proceeding. Fleming and its operating subsidiaries filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code on April 1.

In its complaint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleged that on August 15, 2000, Fleming's food distribution facility on Marshall Streetin Minneapolis accidently released about 750 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The National Response Center was not notified for more than 24 hours.

As of March 16, 2001, the Minnesota Emergency Response Commission still had not been notified of the release. In addition, a written follow-up report, required as soon as practicable after the event, was never filed with the National Response Center or state emergency response commission.

In addition to the fine, Fleming must complete an emergency preparedness drill and provide evidence to the EPA that will demonstrate that safeguards are in place to prevent future late submissions of appropriate chemical inventory forms and recordkeeping.

Federal laws require facilities to immediately notify the National Response Center, as well as the state emergency response commission, about any anhydrous ammonia release larger than 100 pounds.

Anhydrous ammonia may be fatal if inhaled for prolonged periods of time. It causes burns to the skin and may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

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High-Speed Train Board Rejects Beachfront Alignment

IRVINE, California, May 28, 2003 (ENS) - Planners of California's high-speed train system Tuesday agreed to drop consideration of several controversial alignments along the coast. The officials are preparing to select a route for connecting San Diego and Orange Counties to the state's proposed high-speed train system through Union Station in Los Angeles.

At a meeting in Irvine City Hall, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHRA) Board voted unanimously to drop alignments matching existing Amtrak Coastliner tracks along the Del Mar Bluffs in San Diego County and in Orange County along the beach at San Clemente and through the historic district in San Juan Capistrano.

"This was an important decision because it sets the ground rules for our final selection of the passenger rail path linking San Diego to the high-speed train network," said Rod Diridon, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. "This lets everyone focus on practical design options and lets folks along the coast know that we will not intrude on their beaches."

A stream of public officials took the podium to praise the staff recommendation approved by the board. They were virtually unanimous in their support for alignments farther inland.

"I am really happy today to be able to support the staff recommendation for Del Mar and Encinitas," said Orange County Supervisor Pam Slater. She commended the staff for paying attention to local input.

San Clemente Mayor Stephanie Dorey called the board's decision "a win for the environment, a win for transportation and a win for our communities." She said the CHRA staff had been "directly responsive to the major policy concerns we have."

Several speakers urged the board to also drop an option that would place the tracks near the beach in Dana Point. But the board decided to delay that decision until more information is available.

CHRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed noted the beach alignments have been contentious for decades. "It has been refreshing to work with a group of people who had an interest in not just pushing against something but working toward a solution," he said. "This turned out to be one of the best examples of how the environmental process can work to better our transportation as well as our communities."

Now, the beach alignments will not be part of the massive environmental impact report CHRA is preparing for the largest proposed public works project in the nation, a plan to create a 700-mile network of high-speed trains connecting California's major cities with 200-mph service. That EIR is expected to be released in late August.

A $9.95 billion bond issue currently is scheduled for the November 2004 statewide ballot to finance the first phase of construction of the high-speed train system.

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