AmeriScan: Dec. 16, 2013

hand washing
Hand washing prevents the spread of disease, but antibacterial soap may be no more effective than plain soap. (Photo by lighthack)


Antibacterial Soaps, EPA Cuts Enforcement, Green Trade Bill, Offshore Wind Tax Credit, Texas Refinery Cleanup, Navy Sonar Lawsuit

FDA: Antibacterial Soaps Risky, Plain Soap Just as Good … EPA Will Reduce Inspections, Enforcement Cases … Blumenauer Bill Promotes Greener Trade With USA … Groups Urge Tax Credit for Offshore Wind Power Investment … Texas Refinery Settlement Limits Greenhouse Gases, Toxics … Groups Sue to Protect Whales, Dolphins From Navy Sonar


FDA: Antibacterial Soaps Risky, Plain Soap Just as Good

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – The Food and Drug Administration today issued a proposed rule that would require manufacturers to provide more substantial data to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of antibacterial soaps.

There currently is no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water, said Colleen Rogers, PhD, a lead microbiologist at the FDA.

“New data suggest that the risks associated with long-term, daily use of antibacterial soaps may outweigh the benefits,” Rogers said.

hand washing
Hand washing prevents the spread of disease, but antibacterial soap may be no more effective than plain soap. (Photo by lighthack)

Today the agency said that antibacterial soap products contain chemical ingredients, such as triclosan and triclocarban, that may carry “unnecessary risks given that their benefits are unproven.”

The FDA said antibacterial soaps and body washes must provide “clearly demonstrated benefits to balance any potential risks,” but they are no better at preventing sickness than soap and water.

The proposed rule covers only those consumer antibacterial soaps and body washes that are used with water. It does not apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes or antibacterial soaps that are used in health care settings such as hospitals.

The lab tests that have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps do not directly test the effect of a product on infection rates. That would change with FDA’s current proposal, which would require studies that directly test the ability of an antibacterial soap to provide a clinical benefit over washing with non-antibacterial soap, Rogers said.

Most antibacterial products have the word “antibacterial” on the label. A Drug Facts label on a soap or body wash is a sure sign a product contains antibacterial ingredients. Cosmetics must list the ingredients, but are not required to carry a Drug Facts Label.

Many liquid soaps labeled “antibacterial” contain triclosan, an ingredient of concern to many environmental and industry groups.

Animal studies have shown that triclosan may alter the way hormones work in the body. While data showing effects in animals do not always predict effects in humans, these studies are of concern to FDA as well, and warrant further investigation to better understand how they might affect humans.

In addition, laboratory studies have raised the possibility that triclosan contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Such resistance can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments.

Moreover, recent data suggest that exposure to these active ingredients is higher than previously thought, raising concerns about the potential risks associated with their use regularly and over time.

FDA encourages consumers, clinicians, environmental groups, scientists, industry representatives and others to discuss and weigh in on the proposed rule and the data it discusses. The comment period extends for 180 days.

In the meantime, FDA is emphasizing that hand washing is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others. Another source for tips and information about benefits of appropriate hand washing is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

FDA has been collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency on triclosan science and regulatory issues.

EPA regulates the use of triclosan as a pesticide, and is in the process of updating its assessment of the effects of triclosan when it is used in pesticides. For more information on EPA’s most recent assessment of triclosan, click here.

FDA’s focus is on the effects of triclosan when it is used by consumers on a regular basis in hand soaps and body washes.

The two agencies’ joint effort is intended to ensure government-wide consistency in the regulation of the chemical.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


EPA Will Reduce Inspections, Enforcement Cases

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to cut federal inspections and reduce civil enforcement cases according to the agency’s latest draft strategic plan covering the next five fiscal years, 2014 through 2018.

The EPA estimates it will conduct 70,000 federal inspections and evaluations over this five year period. This would reduce the number of inspections to an average of 14,000 per year from the FY 2005-2009 annual baseline of 21,000, a one-third reduction. The EPA conducted 20,000 inspections and evaluations in Fiscal Year 2012.

Over the five years, the EPA plans to initiate 11,600 civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases. The agency projects it iwll initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23 percent reduction.

From FY 2014 to 2018, the agency plans to conclude 10,000 civil judicial and administrative enforcement cases, an average of 2,000 a year. This compares to the FY 2005-2009 baseline of 3,800 annually, a reduction of nearly one-half. The EPA concluded 3,000 cases in FY 2012.

By 2018, the agency says it will maintain review of the overall compliance status of 100 percent of the open consent decrees, the same as the 2009 baseline. In FY 2012 the agency reviewed 91 percent of the open consent decrees.

The EPA says the enforcement measures in its strategic plan will allow the agency to focus on the very largest cases and will vary widely over time depending on the pollution problems being addressed.

EPA also notes that it is beginning to solicit comments on measures that would focus on the Next Generation Compliance approach in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the Agency’s enforcement and compliance program.

“Through Next Generation Compliance, we are promoting the use of advanced monitoring and electronic reporting, designing rules that are easier to implement, expanding transparency and sharing of data, and using innovative enforcement approaches to increase compliance and reduce pollution,” the agency says.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


Blumenauer Bill Promotes Greener Trade With USA

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, Friday introduced HR 3733, the Trade and Environment Enforcement Act, also known as the Green 301 Act.

The measure expands the Section 301 provisions of the Trade Act of 1974 to encompass environmental effects of trade between other countries and the United States.

It provides tools to help prevent practices by other countries that cause negative environmental impacts to human, animal, or plant life or health, or to prevent the conservation of exhaustible natural resources domestically or internationally.

Blumenauer introduced a version of this bill on July 10, 2008, in a previous session of Congress, but the bill failed to move out of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. But the congressman still believes the measure is needed.

“The United States has helped create the largest trade network the world has ever seen,” said Blumenauer on Friday. “As we leverage our commercial influence in the global economy, we can also ensure the countries we are doing business with adhere to basic environmental standards.”

Green 301 would allow the US government to impose penalties, including the increase of tariffs, on countries that fail to effectively enforce the environmental laws of a foreign country and fail to enforce environmental commitments in agreements to which a foreign country and the United States are both Parties, among other measures.

“The promise of an open, mutually beneficial trade relationship with the United States is both a carrot and a stick,” said Blumenauer.

“Green 301, which is supported by the top environmental and conservation groups, lets our trade partners know that, not only does the United States expect our partners to adhere to environmental agreements, but now there could be serious economic penalties for countries that don’t hold up their end of the bargain,” he said.

Oregon and other states heavily dependent on international commerce are disadvantaged when trading partners derogate from their environmental laws. Blumenhauer argues that this gives them an unfair advantage and undercuts U.S. companies, which operate under strong environmental protections.

“Oregon’s iconic brands wouldn’t exist without strong international trading relationships,” said Blumenauer. “But my support for international trade agreements has always been predicated on the notion that the agreements establish a balanced trading regime. Our companies play by the rules, and we expect others to as well.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


Groups Urge Tax Credit for Offshore Wind Power Investment

WASHINGTON, DC, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – With federal tax incentives set to expire on December 31, groups representing hundreds of thousands of citizens along the Atlantic coast sent a letter to President Barack Obama supporting “swift, bold action” by the Obama administration to facilitate the development of offshore wind power.

The groups want Congress to renew the offshore wind investment tax credit to enable construction of offshore wind farms that they see as a new clean energy source for the United States.

More than 230 faith, conservation, and public health organizations; small businesses; and elected officials joined Environment America, the National Wildlife Federation, Conservation Law Foundation, and Southern Environmental Law Center in signing the letter.

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to America’s wildlife this century and properly-sited offshore wind power is an essential part of the solution,” said Catherine Bowes, senior manager for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation. “Our ability to fight climate change and repower America with pollution-free energy hinges on bold action from our federal and state leaders.”

Organizations lauded offshore wind power as a promising alternative to America’s coal-fired power plants, the largest single source of the carbon pollution that scientists warn is fueling global warming and more frequent and severe extreme weather events.

“America is at a turning point in our pursuit of offshore wind power,” the groups say in their letter.

They note that the Department of the Interior recently held the first competitive auctions for offshore wind energy leases off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia – areas that collectively could power 1.7 million homes. The leasing process is also moving forward off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and North Carolina.

In addition, the first U.S. offshore wind projects – Cape Wind in Massachusetts and the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island – are on track to begin the construction process before the end of the year.

To build on this progress, the groups called on the Obama Administration to “set a bold goal for offshore wind development in the Atlantic,” consistent with the Department of Energy’s current goal of 54 gigawatts by 2030.

They ask for investments in offshore wind power, including federal incentives and support for federal research, development, and deployment programs. And they ask the administration to, “Spur markets for offshore wind power, through power purchase commitments and collaboration among key agencies including the federal Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce with state and regional economic development and energy agencies.”

Finally, the group ask the administration to ensure that offshore wind projects are sited, built, and operated responsibly in order to avoid, minimize, and mitigate conflicts with marine life and other ocean uses.

“Hurricane Sandy was a tragic example of what climate change looks like. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we need to shift away from dirty energy that threatens our climate with carbon,” said Julian Boggs, Environment America’s federal global warming program director. “Harnessing the wind that blows off our shores will be essential in facing the climate crisis.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


Texas Refinery Settlement Limits Greenhouse Gases, Toxics

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – The Corpus Christi-based nonprofit Citizens for Environmental Justice has finalized a settlement agreement with Koch Industries’ Flint Hills Resources concerning the company’s planned expansionn project at its Corpus Christi West Refinery.

The refinery is seeking approvals from state and federal regulators to take advantage of increased supplies of crude oil.

The environmental group objected to the proposed air pollution permits.

Under the settlement agreement, the environmental group is withdrawing its opposition to two air pollution permits that the refinery needs before the project can move forward. The groups are represented by the Environmental Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law, and the Environmental Integrity Project.

One permit, authorizing emissions of greenhouse gases, will be issued by the U.S. EPA, while a second permit, covering emissions of air toxics and smog-related air pollutants, will be issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In exchange for the environmental group’s agreement to drop opposition to the project, the refinery has agreed to a suite of improvements to reduce emissions and enhance monitoring to ensure the facility is meeting its permitted limits.

Flint Hills Resources has agreed to:

  • Reduce the permitted limits of smog-causing nitrogen oxides by 25 percent from the original proposed limits for two new hot oil heaters, and use continuous real-time
  • monitors to ensure compliance
  • Reduce the emissions of toxic and smog-forming volatile organic compounds from certain storage tanks by 154 tons per year
  • Meet stricter limits on emissions of volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide from sources that include hot oil heaters, fluid catalytic cracking units, which use extremely high heat to break down crude oil, and cooling towers
  • Improve monitoring for emissions of particulate matter from the catalytic crackers
  • Reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by limiting the amount of sulfur allowed in fuel gas
  • Cap and monitor greenhouse gas emissions from the new heaters that will be built as part of the expansion project
  • Limit the temperature of exhaust gases, to promote efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas pollution
  • Undertake an energy efficiency audit of the crude units to identify additional energy efficiency opportunities

Suzie Canales, director, Citizens for Environmental Justice said, “The industrial boom we are experiencing in Corpus Christi due to oil and gas from the Eagle Ford shale has us more concerned than ever for the health of the fenceline communities in refinery row. We will continue to work to achieve Environmental Justice in Corpus Christi.”

Kelly Haragan, clinical professor, University of Texas School of Law said, “The Clean Air Act recognizes that industrial plants have a legal obligation to upgrade their pollution controls when they modify the plants. This agreement will help ensure that, as Flint Hills Resources increases production at its Corpus Christi West Refinery, it also makes investments in reducing air pollution.”

“We hope that other petrochemical plants that are thriving due to the oil and gas boom will use some of their windfalls to protect the health and safety not only of workers, but also neighboring communities that bear the brunt of toxic and smog-forming emissions,” Haragan said.

Ilan Levin, associate director, Environmental Integrity Project said, “Data from Louisiana and Texas show that projects to add or expand units at refineries and other plants that rely on oil and gas will increase greenhouse gas pollution by more than 45 million tons per year, about as much as 10 baseload coal plants. This agreement shows that companies are willing to accept limits on greenhouse gases, and explore innovative and cost-effective investments in energy efficiency that will reduce pollution across the board.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


Groups Sue to Protect Whales, Dolphins From Navy Sonar

HONOLULU, Hawaii, December 16, 2013 (ENS) – A lawsuit filed in Hawaii federal court today challenges the National Marine Fisheries Service’s approval of a five-year plan by the U.S. Navy for testing and training activities off Hawaii and Southern California. The operations will include active sonar and explosives, which are known to cause permanent injuries and deaths to marine mammals.

The Navy and Fisheries Service estimate this training, approved on Friday, will cause 9.6 million instances of harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.

Ocean mammals depend on hearing for navigation, feeding and reproduction. Scientists have linked military sonar and live-fire activities to mass whale beaching, exploded eardrums and even death. In 2004, during war games near Hawaii, the Navy’s sonar was implicated in a mass stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The Navy and Fisheries Service estimate that, over the plan’s five-year period, training and testing activities will result in thousands of animals suffering permanent hearing loss, lung injuries or death. Millions of animals will be exposed to temporary injuries and disturbances, with many subjected to multiple harmful exposures.

The nonprofit law firm Earthjustice represents Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute in the case.

“The science is clear: Sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals,” said Dr. Marsha Green, Ocean Mammal Institute’s president. “There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and resting. With a little advanced planning and precaution, the Navy can conduct training and protect marine species in the Pacific Ocean.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires that a range of alternatives be considered, including alternatives that could be pursued with less environmental harm, and that the public have an opportunity to review and comment on that analysis.

The groups have gone to court because the Fisheries Service approved the Navy’s plan without evaluating any alternatives that would place biologically important areas off-limits to training and testing.

“Live-fire and ocean sonar training harms critically endangered marine mammals like Hawaii’s insular false killer whales, which number only about 150 individuals and rely heavily on their acute sense of hearing to survive,” said David Henkin of Earthjustice. “When federally protected species are on the line, the law requires the Fisheries Service to take a hard look at ways to avoid harming them and to involve the public in examining alternative courses of action.”

“Some of the marine mammals threatened by Navy activities are already on the brink of extinction, such as the Hawaiian monk seal, our state mammal and one of the world’s most endangered species,” said the Conservation Council for Hawaii’s Marjorie Ziegler.

“The Fisheries Service has determined that Hawaiian monk seals in the main Hawaiian Islands are essential to the species’ survival,” said Ziegler. “Under the plan it just approved, however, each one of these seals will be harmed by sonar an average of 10 times a year.”

“If we can save even a few seals through better planning, we must,” she said. “Much of this harm can be avoided and mitigated, if only the Fisheries Service had the backbone to require it.”

“The lawsuit is not asking to stop the Navy from training,” said Susan Millward, executive director of Animal Welfare Institute. “Rather, we are asking our government to take the required ‘hard look’ before inflicting this much harm on vulnerable marine mammals populations and to consider alternatives that would allow the Navy to achieve its goals with less damage. For taxpayer-funded activities at this scale, citizen oversight often helps create a better plan.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.


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