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AmeriScan: April 16, 2004

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Bush Accused of Rewriting Rules to Suit Industry

WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - The Bush administration has perpetrated more than 150 destructive environmental policy actions over the past year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) charges in its third annual assessment of the President's record, released on Thursday.

Calling it "a historic assault on the nation's environmental safeguards," the NRDC says the government's anti-environmental direction has "accelerated" since President George W. Bush took office in January 2001. The report presents new evidence of industry's direct role in crafting the administration's most controversial policy proposals.

"Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment-2004" catalogues regulatory changes that undermine protections for air, water, wildlife, forests, parks and public health.

Across the West, natural treasures belonging to all Americans are being handed over to logging, mining and energy companies, while public input and environmental review are circumvented to speed the process, the NRDC warns.

"America's environmental laws have succeeded in improving and protecting our air, water, lands and quality of life. Today, it is clearer than ever that these laws now face a fundamental threat more sweeping and dangerous than any since the dawn of the modern environmental movement," said NRDC senior attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

NRDC faults the Bush administration for:

  • Granting special exemptions to allow the injection of sewage into deep wells in Florida, despite the government's own studies that show that pollution could contaminate drinking water supplies.

  • Loosening restrictions on the release of inadequately treated sewage into waterways while shelving long-standing proposals to reduce sewage spills that every year contaminate beaches and coastal waters with bacteria, viruses, and fecal matter.

  • Cutting a sweetheart legal deal behind closed doors with the state of Utah that threatens to open millions of acres of wilderness quality public lands to drilling, mining, road building and other developments.

  • Rejecting tough new mercury standards in favor of a plan that would allow nearly seven times as much mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants for nearly 20 more years.

  • Easing environmental safeguards and public participation requirements to promote logging in national forests and oil and gas drilling on pristine public lands.

For its part, the White House says "President Bush’s focus is on results – making our air, water, and land cleaner."

The President believes that we need to employ the best science and data to inform our decision-making, and that our policies should encourage innovation and the development of new, cleaner technologies.

"We should continue to build on America’s ethic of stewardship and personal responsibility through education and volunteer opportunities, and in our daily lives, keeping in mind that opportunities for environmental improvements are not limited to Federal government actions. States, tribes, local communities, and individuals must be included," the White House says.

But Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy, says, "With the blessing of the White House, federal environmental policy has been hijacked by the least responsible industry interests. The environmental excesses documented in the report reflect a system under siege."

"Rewriting the Rules" is online at: http://www.nrdc.org. For the full Bush administration environmental record to date, go to: http://www.nrdc.org/bushrecord/default.asp.

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Conservationists Raise Money to Elect Kerry

DURANGO, Colorado, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - The only Political Action Committee (PAC) working to elect wilderness and public lands leaders Thursday announced its first ever endorsement in the race for the White House. "There would be no better friend of our national parks, forests, monuments, and wilderness areas than Senator John Kerry," said Victoria Simarano, executive director of WILD PAC.

In 2002, its first election cycle, WILD PAC became the third largest environmental PAC at the federal level.

To help elect Kerry, WILD PAC has kicked off a campaign to raise money from Americans who are concerned about the stewardship of wilderness areas and public lands.

"George Bush has the worst environmental record in presidential history, and his political paybacks to the oil, mining and timber corporations are a real threat to America's great outdoors. Electing a conservationist to the White House is WILD PAC's number one priority," said Simarano.

WILD PAC calls Kerry's conservation record "strong" and points out that he has fought to prevent the oil corporations from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Kerry received a perfect "A" grade from Wild Card, the wilderness and public lands report card released by the American Wilderness Coalition.

Senator Kerry of Massachusetss is the presumptive nominee for the Democratic candidate's postion. Developing his own "Conservation Covenant" to help protect and restore our National Parks and other national treasures for future generations.

From the November 2003 decision by the Federal Election Commission that permits contributors to earmark contributions to the primary committee of the presumptive nominee, as long as the earmarked contributions are forwarded to the treasurer of the presumptive nominee's authorized committee once he is identified, WILD PAC launched Go WILD, Beat Bush! to collect contributions for the eventual Democratic nominee for President.

WILD PAC pledged to turn 100 percent of the donations over to the Kerry campaign once his nomination is made official by the Democratic National Committee.

"America simply can't afford another four years of the Bush administration giving away our public lands to the highest bidder," said Simarano.

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Sierra Club Alleges Denver Mining Firm Paid Off Terrorists

WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - The Sierra Club alleges that a Denver mining company secretly paid millions of dollars to terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda under the auspices of "international security."

In an article that will appear in the May/June issue of "Sierra," the organization's official magazine, author Marilyn Berlin Snell says the Bush administration's Homeland Security and Justice Departments "turned a blind eye" when first informed that Echo Bay Mining Co. paid terrorists for protection of its Philippine gold mining operations

The international terrorist group Abu Sayaff and other terror groups in the Philippines received the protection payoff, Snell writes.

Shortly before the "Sierra" investigation was reported on the April 15 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, the Justice Department reversed course and announced that it would open an investigation into Echo Bay's operations.

Allan Laird, a project manager for an Echo Bay project located on the southern Philippine island of Mindano, brought the story to the Sierra Club because of its known opposition to mining operations.

While working for Echo Bay, Laird discovered a money trail that led straight from the mining operation to the most violent terrorist organizations in the Philippines - two of which had direct links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

Laird unsuccessfully urged Echo Bay executives to release information to U.S. government agencies concerning the company's knowledge of terror groups operating in the Philippines and their extortion of money from Echo Bay and other companies. Laird subsequently contacted the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, which both declined to act on the information.

At that point, Laird approached the Sierra Club's International Programs Director Stephen Mills, who shared the story with Sierra for further investigation.

The Sierra Club is calling for immediate congressional investigations to determine whether this was an isolated incident confined to the operations of one company, or a standard practice for extractive industries. There are many other U.S. multinationals involved in natural resource extraction operations in politically unstable countries around the world.

"Americans have the right to know whether this was an isolated incident confined to the operations of one company, or if this is standard practice for extractive industries," Mills said.

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Pension Leaders Urge SEC to Require Climate Risk Disclosure

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - Leaders of the some of largest U.S. public pension funds are calling on the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to eliminate any doubt that publicly traded companies should be disclosing the financial risks of global warming in their securities filings.

In two separate letters to SEC Chairman William Donaldson, the 13 pension fund leaders say that global warming poses material financial risk to many of their portfolio companies and that those risks should be analyzed as a matter of routine corporate financial disclosure to the SEC.

The 13 public pension fund leaders manage assets of nearly $800 billion; they include eight state treasurers and comptrollers, four labor pension fund leaders, and the New York City Comptroller.

SEC rules do not clearly require such disclosure on global warming and carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in non-disclosure and uneven disclosure, said the investors.

While some companies have voluntarily started to make progress toward such risk disclosure, other companies – including some of the largest U.S. emitters of the greenhouse gases that create global warming – have refused to do so citing ambiguous SEC rules governing the acknowledgment of such material dangers to shareholder wealth.

Denise Nappier, treasurer of the State of Connecticut, said, “When you have American Electric Power and other companies recognizing their fiduciary duty to assess and disclose their environmental risk exposure to shareholders, then we have to ask - shouldn’t the SEC also be recognizing this responsibility?"

Shareholders should not have to struggle company-by-company to get the level of analysis and disclosure they need, Nappier said. "Disclosure of climate risk should be part of routine analysis on the 10K, and investors should be able to rely on it being there.”

The investors cited the SEC’s own guidelines for the Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Conditions and Results of Operations (MD&A) section of a company’s SEC filings which stipulates, “Specific known trends, events or uncertainties that are reasonably likely to have a material effect on a company’s financial condition or operating performance must be discussed in the MD&A.”

Global warming and growing efforts to address it through limiting carbon dioxide emissions present such a trend and uncertainty, say the investors, particularly to companies that are heavy emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, such as electric power, auto, and oil and gas.

The letters to the SEC chairman were signed by: California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier, Maine State Treasurer Dale McCormick, Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, New Mexico State Treasurer Robert Vigil, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Oregon State Treasurer Randall Edwards, Vermont State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Gerald McEntee, Chairman, AFCSME Employees Pension Plan (and president, AFSCME), William Boarman, Chair, CWA/ITU Negotiated Pension Plan, Tom Keegel, General Secretary-Treasurer, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Steve Abrecht, Executive Director of Benefits, SEIU Pension Fund.

The group also requested a meeting with Donaldson to discuss the matter.

Ten of the signatories to the letters to Donaldson issued an investor Call to Action on Climate Risk at a meeting at the United Nations last November, organized by CERES and the state of Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust, and formed an Investor Network on Climate Risk to continue to examine the issue and pursue actions to address it. This request is a direct follow up to that call, they said.

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Engineers Urge Senate Approval of Billions for Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure is in a sorry state of repair, and the business association of the engineering industry is urging Congress to spend at least $5.2 billion to fix it and create 238,000 new jobs in the process.

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) said Thursday that if the funding measure passes, it would create at least 238,000 U.S. jobs and restart nearly $4.1 billion worth of projects that have been stalled because of lack of funding.

The $5.2 billion is allocated in the Senate budget resolution for the 2005 Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF).

"In cities and towns throughout the nation, unsafe and crumbling water infrastructure poses a dangerous threat to public health, and the environment," says ACEC President Dave Raymond. "Passage of the Senate proposal would help redress this situation.

It should be obvious to the legislators that the funds are needed when they try to draw water from the taps of the nation's capital, Raymond said. "The recent discovery that some 23,000 homes in the Washington D.C. area have high drinking water lead levels - requiring serious health warnings for residents to drink only filtered water - is disturbing evidence that the nation's aging and failing water systems must be improved."

The Senate budget resolution would provide $3.2 billion for the Clean Water SRF and $2 billion for the Drinking Water SRF next year. The water and wastewater SRF programs help local communities meet water quality standards, protect public health, and repair and replace old and decaying pipelines and treatment plants.

The Bush administration's 2005 budget request for the two SRF programs totals $1.7 billion. The House did not address the water infrastructure accounts specifically during its budget resolution debates. Congress is currently engaged in conference negotiations on the budget resolution.

Since the Clean Water Act was passed more than 30 years ago, federal funding for maintaining America's water infrastructure has decreased by 70 percent, the ACEC says.

Today, the federal government funds about five percent of the nation's water infrastructure costs.

Statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency warn of a monumental half a trillion dollar funding gap between current spending and projected needs for water and wastewater infrastructure if federal investment is not increased.

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Airborne Nitrogen Fouls New England Waterways

PEMBROKE, New Hampshire, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - Nitrogen entering the atmosphere from many sources is affecting the quality of streams throughout New England, a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows.

Using a new computer model designed to map nitrogen and phosphorus transport and how these natural elements change stream quality, scientists determined that 50 percent of the nitrogen found in New England streams, or more than 42,000 metric tons per year, comes from the atmosphere.

This nitrogen originates both within and outside the region.

"Nitrogen is an element released into the atmosphere from numerous sources, including fossil fuel combustion, agricultural fertilizers, and animal manure," said Richard Moore, USGS hydrologist and chief investigator of the study. "Wastewater facilities and various urban and suburban land uses also contribute to the amount of nitrogen in the region's streams."

Although nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for plants and animals, too much nitrogen in water can lead to excessive plant growth in streams, lakes, and coastal waters; fish kills; and rivers that are unsuitable for recreation and other uses., said Moore.

The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency collaborated in the study to better understand and manage nutrient contamination and to improve the water quality in New England's rivers.

"We were surprised to find that contrary to previous theories, nitrogen, once it enters the water, stays dissolved in the larger streams and rivers in New England all the way to the coast where the river discharges into the ocean," said Moore. "The new computer model we developed now allows us to better identify the major sources of nutrients to New England's rivers, where they come from, and how the quality of the rivers is affected."

Scientists are using the computer models to determine how pollutants entering the Connecticut River Watershed affect the health of Long Island Sound.

"Long Island Sound is one of our region's most important and valuable estuaries," said Ronald Poltak, executive director of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. "Improving the quality of the Sound is a critical goal for all environmental agencies in the Sound's watershed."

"Currently, we are working on a long term plan to reduce the amount of nitrogen that enters the Sound using some of the information generated by this study in combination with other studies," Poltoak said.

The EPA and states in New England will use the new computer model to determine what level of nitrogen and phosphorus adversely affects the health of streams and to define acceptable levels of these contaminants in rivers and streams.

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New Jersey Frees Up $45 Million to Convert Brownfields

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - New Jersey Governor James McGreevey Thursday signed a bill into law that will free up $45.8 million for brownfields redevelopment.

The bill enacts the Constitutional amendment for brownfields funding that New Jersey voters approved in November 2003, as Public Question No. 2. The amendment was required to expand the uses of Corporation Business Tax revenues that were set aside for the remediation of underground storage tank sites.

Much of that funding could not be spent, and created a surplus of about $100 million. The new law will free up half of the fund for brownfields work.

The fund will provide an ongoing, stable source of about $15 million to $20 million a year for future brownfields investments without creating any new taxes. The new funding would represent an increase of about 40 percent in what the state has been investing in brownfields each year.

“There are an estimated 10,000 brownfield sites across New Jersey – abandoned industrial areas that contribute nothing to a town’s beauty or its economy,” McGreevey said. “But we’re reclaiming these sites. Every acre of brownfields redevelopment spares 4.5 acres of open space from future development. And every acre transformed represents the possibility of new jobs and new tax ratables for the local towns.”

Commissioner Susan Bass Levin said. “This bill will make critical brownfields redevelopment easier by providing our cities and towns with the funding they need to breathe new life into our once forgotten and neglected properties, and create an improved quality of life for all New Jerseyans.”

The amount invested in brownfields has increased under Governor McGreevey. Since January 2002, the administration has approved investments of more than $99 million, from various funding sources and programs, for about 260 brownfields projects across the state.

The Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF) was created in 1993, but nearly a quarter – $23 million – of its total investments were made under the McGreevey Administration. Likewise, the Brownfield Contaminated Site Remediation Program was created in 1998, but 65 percent of its projects were executed under Governor McGreevey.

Current projects include Camden Cherokee’s efforts to turn an 89 acre landfill into a golf course, as part of that company’s $1 billion, private investment in Camden.

Another effort for brownfields is the creation of the Cleanup Star program, which will let qualified environmental consultants oversee the cleanup of sites. That will speed up the process, and free up the Department of Environmental Protection to take on more brownfield sites. The first 200 Cleanup Star applicants were “graduated” in February. Due to the demand, the agency has scheduled another enrollment period in May.

“These investments are an important reason New Jersey’s economy is a national leader in job creation,” the tovernor said. “We’re protecting open space, beautifying towns and helping those towns create jobs and new tax revenue.”

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Robotic Floats Test Plankton Greenhouse Gas Takeup

BERKELEY, California, April 16, 2004 (ENS) - Oceanographers have believed in the iron hypothesis as a way of removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air, and the first experiment to test it - just completed - confirms their belief.

The iron hypothesis holds that by adding small amounts of iron, an essential micronutrient, to ocean waters rich in other nutrients, aquatic plants can be made to bloom vigorously, removing enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to offset the greenhouse effect.

To test it, three robotic Carbon Explorer floats were launched by scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory during the Southern Ocean Iron Experiment (SOFeX) in January and February of 2002. They tracked a patch of iron-fertilized plankton for weeks through stormy waters between 50 and 60 degrees south latitude, gathering new evidence for the hypothesis.

Research results are reported in the 16 April 2004 issue of the journal "Science," a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"This was the first experiment to test the iron hypothesis by comparing observations of iron amended waters with control observations - on the fast, hourly-to-daily time scales of marine biological processes," says oceanographer Jim Bishop of Berkeley Lab's Earth Sciences Division, who directed the Carbon Explorer studies, "and it was the first to follow such an experiment for months."

Two of the robot floats recorded, and reported via satellite, more than a four-fold growth of plankton in a fertilized patch of nitrate rich but silicate poor waters. These measurements contradict the expectation that lack of dissolved silicates would limit plankton growth.

"From previous experiments we knew that adding iron turns the water green," says Bishop - in other words, makes phytoplankton bloom. "What we didn't know was what happened to the carbon."

He notes three possible fates - that "the plants just dissolve in the surface waters and the carbon recirculates into the atmosphere. Or the phytoplankton could be eaten by small microbes and zooplankton living in the upper ocean, which would have no impact on atmospheric CO2 because of their respiration."

But the Carbon Explorer results support a third alternative. "The only way iron fertilization can have an impact on atmospheric carbon is if the plants fix the carbon, and a major fraction of that carbon settles out of the surface layer into the deep sea," either as waste from grazing zooplankton or other aggregate particles, or as the plants themselves sink.

Two of the floats operated in the world's stormiest waters for over 14 months, diving, measuring, recording, and reporting their data while following the circumpolar currents from near New Zealand almost to South America before falling silent.

In conclusion, says Bishop, "the SOFeX Carbon Explorers showed that we can use autonomous technology to understand many physical, chemical, and biological processes important to the way carbon is sequestered in the oceans. Their success has energized efforts, both at Berkeley Lab and across the country, to develop a whole new generation of sensors."

SOFeX Carbon Explorer studies were supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Science through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Carbon flux measurement instrumentation for the floats was supported by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program.

The Berkeley Lab is a federal Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.



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