International business briefs: Californian pesticide concerns, South Korea investing in biofuels, EPA Spanish website, US needs energy efficiency, China halts power developments

Environmental health and community groups have filed a law suit this week in Sacramento Superior Court to require California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to uphold the Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) law. The law, enacted in 1984, requires DPR to assess all pesticides as potential air contaminants and regulate them in order to protect public health. Of the more than 900 pesticides registered in California, DPR has completed the review process for only four in the past 20 years. Of the 172 million pounds of pesticides reported used in 2002 in the state, more than 90% are prone to drifting away from where they are applied and becoming airborne toxins. According to the California Air Resources Board, pesticides are one of the top three contributors to ozone pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, accounting for about 8-10% of the ozone-forming gases produced in the region. High levels of ozone trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate other respiratory illnesses. In addition, nearly one-third of pesticides used in California are associated with serious chronic and acute health problems, such as cancer or nervous system damage.

Asia’s fourth-biggest oil consumer, South Korea, plans to promote the import, production and sale of biofuels and other alternative fuels to help curb fossil fuel demand, the country’s Ministry for Energy has stated this week. South Korea, which is extremely dependent on importing all of its crude oil, is attempting to decrease its heavy reliance on foreign fossil fuels in a bid to lower its exposure to fluctuations in global oil prices. The country currently imports nearly three quarters of its crude oil from volatile countries in the Middle East. However, South Korea’s Ministry for Energy has stated that, from 2006 onwards, companies will be allowed to import, produce and sell alternative fuels, including liquefied coal, orimulsion and biofuels.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new consolidated Spanish website as part of its ongoing effort to provide environmental information both in Spanish and English. The new site compiles EPA’s Spanish language materials on a wide variety of areas from lead poisoning prevention to controlling asthma triggers, recycling to proper management of pesticides. The site was developed through a series of focus groups to respond to the environmental needs and interests of Hispanics. In addition to environmental health information, the site also offers educational resources for students and teachers who often seek Spanish language learning tools on the environment. The site also provides information about EPA grants, small business opportunities and environmental jobs at the agency.

According to a study released this week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), investment in a modestly aggressive energy efficiency campaign could produce billions of dollars in annual net cost savings for residential, commercial and industrial customers in the Midwest. Midwest consumers have been hit hard by the recent increases in natural gas costs. Due to the region’s cold weather, high saturation of natural gas space heating and large concentration of heavy industries that rely on natural gas for fuel and feedstock purposes, natural gas price increases have a disproportionately large impact on the Midwest economy. ACEEE projects that by 2006, in a business-as-usual scenario, customers in the Midwest would spend approximately US $40 billion per year on natural gas, about 50% more than Midwest consumers spent on natural gas in 2002. Because the Midwest imports almost 92% of the natural gas it consumes, expenditures of this magnitude would represent tens of billions of dollars being drained from the Midwest economy each year.

And finally, China has halted construction on 23 power stations with a total energy capacity of almost 32,000 MW because they don’t meet the necessary environmental requirements, the government stated this week. The projects include the 12,600 MW Xiluodu station on the Yangtze River and the 4,200 MW underground power station at the Three Gorges Dam, the State Environmental Protection Administration said in a statement.

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