AmeriScan: October 6, 2006

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Firefighters Battle North Carolina Chemical Fire

APEX, North Carolina, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - Federal emergency responders were dispatched Friday to help North Carolina state and local officials assess the state of a large chemical fire in outside Raleigh.

The fire and a series of explosions at the hazardous waste plant late Thursday night forced more than 17,000 people to flee their homes. No employees were believed to have been inside at the time. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Flames shot some 150 feet in the sky, witnesses said, and a chlorine cloud rose 50 feet in the air.

Rainy weather has helped subdue the fire and dissipate the chlorine cloud, according to local officials, but could complicate cleanup by washing more chemicals released by the fire into the environment.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, firefighters had begun to try to put out the fire - residents of the town have been told they will not be allowed to return until the fire is extinguished.

The facility, owned by EQ Industrial Service, handles an array of industrial wastes and stores chemicals, pesticides and fertilizer. It is in the small town of Apex, about 10 miles west of Raleigh.

Officials said 41 people have sought medical treatment, but none had serious problems related to the fire.

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U.S. Forgives Debt to Protect African Forests

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - The United States announced a debt-for-nature swamp that will provide some $8 million to conserve tropical forests in Botswana. The funds will help safeguard the ecologically fragile Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park regions, which are home to the fishing owl, leopard, elephant, hippopotamus and many other wildlife species.

Populations living in and around these forests also depend upon them for their livelihood and survival, and these agreements intend to help ensure the sustainability of the forests for future generations.

The deal is the first debt for nature swamp made with an African nation by the United States under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA).

The 1998 law allows debt owed to the United States to be invested in conservation efforts.

Botswana is the 11th country to forge an agreement under the program - earlier this week the United States announced a $24 million debt for nature swamp with Guatemala.

The agreement with Botswana was made possible through a contribution of nearly $7 million from the U.S. government and will reduce Botswana's debt by more than $8.3 million.

The pact was signed in Gaborone, Botswana, by U.S. Ambassador Katherine Canavan and Botswana Minister of Finance and Development Planning Baledzi Gaolathe.

"The promise of the TFCA has been fulfilled in the last few years to provide substantial benefits for the environment in participating countries," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science Claudia McMurray said. "These benefits come at a small cost to the U.S. and a great benefit for all who care about the environment."

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Oil Companies Settle Fuel Violations for $1.5 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a $1.5 million settlement with BP and Shell for alleged violations of the motor vehicle fuels provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.

EPA sets gasoline and diesel fuel standards under the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollutants such as smog, carbon monoxide and air toxics from motor vehicles.

According to the complaint by the agency, the companies produced and distributed gasoline that failed to meet the regulatory requirements. Use of noncomplying fuel in motor vehicles can cause an increase in emissions that can significantly harm public health.

The settlements resolve alleged violations of various fuel standards that occurred from 1999 through 2004 at retail outlets, terminals and refineries located throughout the United States.

For example, a number of the violations involve the summertime gasoline standard for volatility, or tendency to evaporate, which is intended to reduce smog-causing hydrocarbon emissions.

Some of the violations were self-reported by BP and Shell, while others were discovered through EPA's inspection and compliance programs.

BP agreed to pay a civil penalty of $900,000 and Shell agreed to pay a civil penalty of $600,000. BP and Shell will also perform extensive remedial efforts - including quality assurance programs and technical changes in processes and equipment - to correct the alleged violations and to prevent the recurrence of similar violations

"These settlements underscore both the importance of enforcement of EPA standards to protect the public health, and the value of vigorous environmental enforcement efforts to address violations at multiple facilities," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "All Americans benefit when corporations bring their facilities into compliance with our nation's fuels regulations because our citizens breathe cleaner air."

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Horse Slaughter Races Forward

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - Three foreign-owned horse slaughter plants have accelerated operations because they fear a possible ban by U.S. lawmakers, a national animal rights groups said Thursday.

The latest data reveals that the plants butchered more horses in recent weeks in more than a decade. The figures, collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, show that 9,163 horses were slaughtered in the four weeks ending mid-September - a 79 percent increase over the average rate since November 1994.

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.

"Since legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives to ban horse slaughter, the packing plants have nearly doubled their rate of killing horses for human consumption overseas, making it painfully obvious it's all about profit and has nothing to do with the industry's wild claim that this is humane euthanasia and is 'for the horses' own good'," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

The House approved the horse slaughter ban on Sept. 7 by a vote of 263-146. The bill amends the Horse Protection Act to prohibit shipping, possessing, purchasing, selling or donating horses for slaughter for human consumption. The Senate has not set a schedule for considering the legislation.

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.

Critics of the proposed ban say it ignores the realities facing farmers and horse owners across the nation, and argue that the slaughter of unwanted horses is a necessary aspect of the horse industry and provides a humane alternative to suffering, abuse or abandonment.

The Humane Society of the United States, which released the USDA figures, contends that nine of 10 horses sent to slaughter are healthy animals.

"It is more vital than ever that the Senate act in November to put an end to this barbaric business of slaughtering these American icons."

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Lawmakers Call for More Parks Funding

WASHINGTON, DC, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers have called on the Bush administration to provide significant new funding for the national park system. The request was sent to the White House by 37 senators and more than 100 members of the House.

"We must provide the parks with the federal investment needed to restore the luster of these national gems," the lawmakers said. "We respectfully urge you to include a considerable increase in the National Park Service budget you submit to Congress for fiscal year 2008, and initiate a sustained, 10-year effort [to restore the parks]."

The letter from the Senate was sponsored by Senators Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, and Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat. The House letter was sponsored by Representatives Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, and Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat.

The letters drew praise from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which has repeatedly sounded warnings that the national parks are severely underfunded.

"These letters illustrate the strong, bipartisan support in Congress for increased funding for the critical needs of our national parks, just as the administration is preparing the national parks' fiscal year 2008 budget," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan.

Last month the conservation group released a report estimating the size of the funding shortfall that faces all 390 national park sites has grown from some $600 million to more than $800 million.

The advocacy group said the funding situation directly affects the experiences of park visitors and the preservation of the nation's treasures. The report compared the relatively small operating increases Congress has provided over the last few years against fixed costs such as annual Cost of Living Adjustments for park staff and other personnel costs.

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Court Shoots Down Army's Hawaiian Stryker Brigade

HONOLULU, Hawaii, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Army violated federal environmental law when it failed to consider any location other than Hawaii for conversion of an infantry brigade into a brigade built around the 25-ton Stryker fighting vehicle, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled this week.

The court found that the Army's failed to study the environmental impacts of stationing the Stryker brigade in Hawaii and also failed to consider reasonable alternatives - as directed by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The decision is a victory for native Hawaiian organizations who had filed suit against the Army. The impacts of Stryker training and related activities on Hawaii's unique cultural sites and fragile native ecosystems were the main concerns raised by the Native Hawaiian groups.

The appellate court rejected the Army's claims that stationing a Stryker brigade in Hawaii was the only reasonable way for the Army to accomplish its national security goals.

It has ordered the Army to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement containing "supplemental analysis of alternative locations."

Under terms of a November 2004 agreement between the Army and the native Hawaiian groups, the ruling means the Army must cease all Stryker-related activities, including construction and Stryker training, until the court can rule on what activities, if any, will be allowed while an supplemental environmental impact statement is prepared.

"The Ninth Circuit's decision is not only right on the law, but also makes good sense," said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice who represents the Native Hawaiian groups. "The court agreed that, before carrying out this environmentally destructive project, the Army was required first to look at other options to be sure that Hawaii is the best place to for a Stryker brigade. This was not done. We're pleased that, finally, there is going to be full public disclosure in the supplemental environmental impact statement about other, better places the Army can carry out this controversial project."

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Pennsylvania Doles Out Clean Energy Grants

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, October 6, 2006 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Edward G. Rendell announced at $6.4 million investment in 16 clean energy projects. Rendell said the projects will create 316 permanent and up to 280 construction jobs in the commonwealth, as well as to leverage more than $38 million in private funds.

"Pennsylvania is making strategic investments to stimulate the growth of clean energy technologies that can power our future without leaving us in the grip of foreign governments or choking on harmful emissions," Rendell said. "By partnering with Pennsylvania companies that are advancing solar power, biofuels and other forms of renewable energy, as well as building clean fossil technologies, we are creating opportunities to put Pennsylvanians to work now and for years to come."

According to state officials, energy output from the projects, which were approved by the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA), will generate an estimated 15,710-megawatt hours of electricity, enough to power about 1,600 Pennsylvania homes, and produce the equivalent of enough natural gas to supply almost 2,500 homes for a year. Another 208,000 million British thermal units will be conserved. The projects also have the potential to produce 115-million gallons of biofuel.

The 16 projects will receive grants for a variety of clean fuels and green power projects using sources such as solar, fuel cells, biofuels, landfill gas, wind and biomass. The funding also aims to boost Pennsylvania businesses by putting alternative energy technologies to work for them, bolster public infrastructure and support additional income streams for Pennsylvania farmers.

PEDA financing supports millions of dollars in funding private interests are investing in the projects. This funding represents the third round of awards by PEDA, which Governor Rendell revitalized after years of inactivity as part of his strategy to build a clean, indigenous, diversified energy industry in Pennsylvania.

The 16 PEDA projects were evaluated on a variety of criteria, including their ability to promote Pennsylvania's indigenous energy resources, encourage energy diversity, enhance energy security and improve the environment. The projects were judged on their potential to create jobs and stimulate investment in the state. Technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness also were considered.

Five of the projects include solar power, with a total public-private investment of almost $3.8 million. This latest round of funding will also support the installation of a two-megawatt fuel cell at U.S. Steel's Mon Valley facility, fueling it using surplus hydrogen-rich gas from coke oven operations. In addition it will provide some $390,000 for a fuel cell manufacturing center, $350,000 for a school to install a biomass-fired boiler heating system and $1 million to construct rail facilities for a $180 million ethanol plant.