National news roundup


 Congress has approved a $110 million measure to preserve open space in the Highlands, a rugged region that spans 3.5 million acres in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. President Bush is expected to sign the measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives and by the Senate. Advocates say the law is crucial to limiting further development in the region, sometimes called the back yard of Philadelphia and New York City. In addition to being home to more than 250 "at risk" plant and animal species, the region is also a source of drinking water for millions of residents. The Highlands is located within a two hour drive for one in nine U.S. residents, and the region also is valued for its hiking and fishing opportunities. The final version of the bill would increase land eligible for conservation in Pennsylvania from 242,315 acres to nearly 1,400,000 acres. The $110 million measure would earmark $10 million for research and technical assistance.


 For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to protect fish and other aquatic life from inadvertently being destroyed by cooling water intake structures at existing facilities and new offshore oil and gas facilities nationwide. For any existing facility, the EPA is proposing three options for public comment: Setting requirements for facilities that withdraw more than 50 million gallons of water per day; those that pull 100 million gallons a day from one of the Great Lakes or in coastal areas; or any that use more than 200 million gallons of water per day. Depending on the options chosen, the EPA estimates that this proposal would protect between 30 million and 50 million aquatic organisms annually from death or injury, depending on the size and number of facilities covered by the rule. The benefits to commercial and recreational fishing range from $1.3 million to $1.9 million per year. There are likely to be other benefits, such as more robust and productive aquatic ecosystems at these facilities. The EPA estimates the proposed rule would impact between 19 and 136 existing facilities and have compliance costs between $17 million and $47 million per year. More than 120 new offshore and coastal oil and gas facilities would also be regulated, at a cost of $3.2 million. The rule would cost state and federal agencies between $500,000 and $1 million annually to administer, for a total annual cost of between $21 million and $51 million.


Mercury emissions from power plants may have minimal regional impacts, according to data and analysis presented by scientists funded by the electricity-generating industry and the U.S. Department of Energy. If confirmed, these unexpected observations could have a dramatic impact on the intense debate over mercury regulations in the United States because they suggest that local power plant emissions may actually have a small impact on local mercury deposition and, hence, on mercury inputs to lakes, which ultimately bioaccumulate in fish. However, many nonindustry scientists who have seen presentations of the work say that large uncertainties in the data and a lack of a plausible mechanism make it difficult to draw conclusions from the unpublished studies. Industry scientists believe they have data to support the hypothesis that reactive gaseous mercury is very rapidly reduced to elemental mercury as the plumes mix with ambient air. If the hypothesis is correct, then U.S. power plant emissions are only a small part of the problem in any particular area because they constitute only about 1 to 5 percent of total global emissions.


More than 772 "combined" sewage systems in the United States annually discharge around 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater into nearby waterways, according to an EPA report sent to Congress recently. This is approximately twice as much drinking water as New York City uses every year. The agency estimates that these sewage overflows degrade water quality, shut down numerous beaches, and lead to some 5,000 gastrointestinal illnesses in humans every year. Combined sewer systems were built primarily in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions and contain pipes that carry both sewage and storm water. During periods of heavy rain, the pipes overflow into rivers and onto beaches. An EPA report in 2001 admitted that more than 40,000 sewage overflows occur each year in the United States, and each one is a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The government now estimates it will cost $139.4 billion to fix all the nation's leaky sewers. In 2001, a report from Johns Hopkins researchers linked sewage overflows with diseases such as giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis and hepatitis A. The study found that 68 percent of waterborne disease outbreaks over a 47 year period were preceded by high precipitation events. "We'll be considering whether to focus on a requirement for reporting," stated John Hanlon, director of EPA's Office for Wastewater Management. The problem in the United States, he added, can be summed up in two words: "miserable infrastructure."


 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its findings on federal and state government spending for implementing the Endangered Species Act in fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2002. Total expenditures reported for fiscal year 2001 equaled $2.5 billion, of which $1.7 billion was reported under a new category of "Other ESA Expenses." Total expenditures reported for fiscal year 2002 came to $1.2 billion, of which $358 million was reported as "Other ESA Expenses." In 2000, the last year under the prior approach to reporting, the total was $610 million. The "Other ESA Expenses" category quantifies expenditures that are not identifiable with specific listed species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 20 other federal agencies identified expenditures for the conservation of individual threatened and endangered species.

 ED — Reports compiled by BASS Times Senior Writer Craig Lamb.