Judge Grants Greenpeace Request for Jury TrialMIAMI, Florida, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - A jury will determine the validity of the Bush administration's prosecution of Greenpeace for alleged violations of a 1872 law enacted to prevent "sailor mongering," a Miami federal judge determined last week.
The U.S. Justice Department is using the 19th century law to prosecute the environmental organization for a 2002 protest of the Bush administration's failure to stop illegal logging.
Judge Adalberto Jordan postponed ruling on Greenpeace's motion to dismiss the indictment, but he warned the Justice Department that he might grant the motion after the presentation of facts at trial.
He expressed doubts about the Justice Department's ability to prevail against Greenpeace's claim that the criminal statute involved is unfairly vague.
"It is not a good sign," he wrote, "when the government resorts to defining a phrase by repeating the phrase itself."
The indictment centers on an April 2002 protest in which two Greenpeace activists climbed aboard a commercial ship several miles off the coast of Florida.
The activists believed the ship carried a shipment of mahogany illegally exported from Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and once aboard they unfurled a banner that said "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging."
This kind of protest has been a signature of Greenpeace action for more than 25 years and the activists expected to be arrested and charged.
The individuals involved in the protest settled charges against them last year, but the Justice Department filed criminal charges against the entire organization in July 2003 under the 1872 law.
Bush administration lawyers say the charges are not severe enough to warrant a jury trial and a federal judge in Miami is set to hear the case.
Possible penalties under the law are unclear - the law has only been used twice and the last time was in 1890.
But Greenpeace fears it could lose its tax exempt status, a potentially crippling blow to the organization's U.S. activities, and says the use of the "sailor mongering" law reflects a political vendetta by the Bush administration.
The indictment is the first time a nongovernmental organization has been charged for free speech activities of its members, and civil rights groups and other public interest organizations are also worried about the possible implications for their own activities.
In granting the organization's request for a jury trial, Jordan said the indictment is "a rare - and maybe unprecedented - prosecution of an advocacy group" for free speech related conduct.
"We look forward to proving at trial that we are not guilty of the charges and that we were doing the right thing to protect the Amazon," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA. "The Justice Department's prosecution of Greenpeace is unwarranted and politically motivated."
Judge Jordan has yet to rule on Greenpeace's motion to obtain information on whether the government is engaged in improper selective prosecution.
Research Group Publishes Asbestos Shipment ListWASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - Asbestos laden vermiculite was shipped from Libby, Montana to more than 243 locations across the nation during a 45 year period, according to an environmental watchdog group based in Washington, DC.
A list of the locations, culled from government records, has been published on the Internet by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
According to EWG, a total of 4.8 million pounds of vermiculite containing asbestos was shipped to 243 street addresses in 39 states as recorded by government investigators.
The material from the Libby site, now closed, was used to manufacture a variety of products, including insulation and other building materials.
The list, which includes the street address of each location, can be found here.
The organization is urging anyone who may have worked at any of these locations to get a health checkup.
"Health authorities in Washington State and at the federal level have concluded that people who worked at these locations are at risk of developing a number of serious asbestos caused illnesses," said Richard Wiles, EWG Action Fund senior vice president. "Anyone who worked at these locations should have a thorough medical exam, whether or not they were directly involved in the manufacture of products that contained asbestos."
Asbestos is still legal in the United States, which also imports more than 30 million pounds a year.
Exposure to asbestos can cause various forms of cancers, and symptoms may take 20 years or more to develop.
A mineral fiber that is extracted from rock, asbestos has been used for centuries for its fire resistance and because it is not easily destroyed or degraded by natural processes.
But the same qualities that make asbestos such a useful material make it extremely difficult to completely remove.
Early next week, the U.S. Senate plans to begin debate on a bill that would terminate all asbestos litigation for present and future victims of asbestos illnesses.
Wildlife Service Reviews Greater Sage Grouse StatusCHEYENNE, Wyoming, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - After reviewing three petitions to protect the greater sage grouse across its entire range under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that substantial biological information exists to warrant a more in-depth examination of the species' status.
Recent estimates indicate that greater sage-grouse populations have declined by approximately 86 percent from historic levels - habitat loss is the key cause of this decline.
The finding will commence with a full status review of the species, and once the review is complete, the Service will determine whether to propose listing the species as either threatened or endangered.
"It is important to note that our finding regarding these petitions does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to list the greater sage grouse," said Ralph Morgenweck, the Fish and Wildlife Service's director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. "Rather, this finding is the first step in a long process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available."
Morgenweck said the process should be completed a year.
The information in the petitions details loss, fragmentation, and degradation of sage grouse habitat due to wildfire, invasion of non-native plants, livestock management, agricultural conversion, herbicide treatment and mining and energy development, among other causes.
Sage grouse depend almost entirely on sagebrush for food and protection from predators.
In the summer, the birds depend on the grass and plants that grow under the sagebrush to provide nesting material, as well as high protein insects that are critical to the diet of chicks in their first month of life. In winter, more than 99 percent of their diet is sagebrush leaves and buds.
The species is found at elevations ranging from 4,000 to over 9,000 feet in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. The birds are also found in the Canadian province of Alberta.
The greater sage grouse is a large, ground dwelling bird, up to 30 inches in length and two feet fall, weighing from two to seven pounds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting information to help with its review from state and federal natural resource agencies as well as from other interested parties.
Gas Drilling Considered for Rocky Mountain FrontCHOTEAU, Montana, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has initiated the review process required for new drilling permits on several existing leases located in the Blackleaf area, which lies in the heart of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front.
The BLM estimates that the analysis alone for the new drilling permits will cost U.S. taxpayers at least $1 million, although the agency has said very little natural gas lies beneath the Blackleaf area.
On January 28, 2002, the BLM's Montana state office released a "Statement of Adverse Energy Impact" for the Blackleaf unit of the Front.
The BLM estimated there to be .014 to .106 trillion cubic feet of gas there, the equivalent of two days of natural gas for the country.
And the only company actively considering whether to drill along the Front, the Canadian firm Startech Energy Inc., has estimated only a one-in-four chance of finding economically recoverable gas in the Blackleaf.
The move has outraged conservationists, who say the Rocky Mountain Front is one of the nation's most treasured natural landscapes.
"Montanans understand that the Front is a special place, and we have worked together for generations to protect it," said Karl Rappold, a rancher from Dupuyer, Montana. Rappold is a member of the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, an organization of ranchers, hunters, anglers, local business owners, public officials, conservationists, and other Montanans safeguarding the Front.
"The Front contains some of the best wildlife habitat in the United States," he said. "It would be a shame to ruin that for, at best, a few days worth of natural gas."
The Rocky Mountain Front is a unique natural area where the east slope of the Montana Rockies suddenly merges with the prairies and is home to a range of wildlife including grizzly bears, westslope cutthroat trout, wolverine, lynx, elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
Montana's Rocky Mountain Front stretches for more than 100 miles, from Glacier National Park to near Helena, Montana.
"It is sad that the BLM will spend more than one million dollars to do a study that goes against public opinion and common sense," said Chuck Blixrud, an outfitter and owner of the 7 Lazy P Guest Ranch in Choteau, Montana. "That money could be used for other things like protecting the Front, which would be better in the long run for local people and the economy. The Front is where many of us live and work."
In 1997, the Forest Service placed the Front off limits for any new leasing for 10 to 15 years.
During public consideration of that proposal, more than 80 percent of the comments received by the Forest Service supported the no new leases decision.
This decision, however, did not apply to pre-existing leases such as those in the Blackleaf region where the drilling applications now being considered by the BLM.
The BLM will hold public meetings, all in an open house format, at five locations across Montana. The meetings will be May 3 in Choteau; May 4 in Great Falls; May 5 in Missoula; May 17 in Helena; and May 20 in Browning. All will be from 6 to 9 pm.
The exact locations of the meetings have yet to be announced.
Federal Drilling Permits Gather DustDENVER, Colorado, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - More than 6,000 federal drilling permits have not been used during the past decade, according to analysis by The Wilderness Society. The organization says the finding casts doubts over the oil and gas industry's clamoring for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expedite the processing and issuance of drilling permits.
"No one is saying we should not be drilling out West, but this surplus raises the question of why there is a rush to open some very sensitive areas to drilling, including areas that have been proposed for wilderness protection," said Dr. Michelle Haefele, an economist with The Wilderness Society.
In February the BLM sold leases adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument and the agency has announced plans to sell leases in proposed wilderness areas in Colorado in May and in Utah in June.
These sales follow on previous sales in Colorado and Utah in which the BLM also sold leases on lands identified by the agency as having wilderness values.
"This is not an economic analysis that is taking place in a vacuum," said Haefele. "We are witnessing the very real possibility of losing some of the West's last remaining unspoiled areas."
Haefele and Dr. Pete Morton co-authored The Wilderness Society report entitled "Drilling in the Rockies? Not So Fast!"
The research found that up to 60 percent of the leases currently held by the oil and gas industry are not in production - that amounts to 23 million acres throughout the Rocky Mountain West, and 31 million acres nationally, that are leased but not being used.
For the study, Morton and Haefele interviewed BLM staff and based their findings on "the best available data" from the BLM and industry sources.
The BLM reports that more than 1,000 drilling permits have gone unused in Wyoming's Powder River Basin alone during the past year.
"The fact that industry has sat on 1,000 or more permits that have been issued in the Powder River Basin proves there is no legitimate reason to rush forward permitting," said Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council. "It also proves that industry complaints that development is being delayed by tactics from conservation groups is a big fabrication."
Arctic Refuge Not Part of BP's Business PlanWASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - London based oil giant British Petroleum (BP) Chairman Peter Sutherland announced last week at the company's general meeting that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is "not part of its current business plan."
Conservationists hailed the announcement as a victory for a campaign to persuade BP to stay out of sensitive and protected areas.
"Drilling in the Arctic does not make sense from an environmental standpoint and the company's announcement today shows that BP recognizes that it does not make good business sense either," said Athan Manuel, Arctic Campaign Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "We hope that we can build on a productive annual meeting and develop a long term no-go zone policy for sensitive areas."
Manuel and the Right Reverend Mark MacDonald of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska presented a shareholder resolution at the annual general meeting aimed at pressuring BP to consider a "no-go zone policy."
The resolution, filed by a trans-Atlantic coalition of environmentalists, religious organizations, and socially responsible investors, directs BP to report on the risks associated with operating in sensitive and protected areas such as World Heritage Sites, IUCN categories, and national parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges.
More than six percent of BP shareholders voted in favor of the resolution.
"For centuries, the Christian moral tradition and the Western legal tradition have consistently promoted aboriginal rights as fundamental elements of basic and minimal commitment to justice," said Reverend MacDonald.
"Though these traditions are accepted almost unanimously in theory, government, corporations and sadly, even religious institutions have far too consistently undermined or stolen capacity for aboriginal peoples to survive," MacDonald said.
The Special Resolution, drafted by U.S. PIRG in December 2003, was co-filed by a broad coalition of environmental, financial, and religious groups, along with more than 90 individual investors.
The vote sent a "strong message to BP that the best way for the company to go beyond petroleum is to stay out of protected areas like the Arctic Refuge," said Manuel. "Adopting a no-go zones policy will make BP the industry leader on environmental issues and corporate responsibility."
In the last five years, the PIRG Arctic Wilderness Campaign has targeted oil companies that have an interest in drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
ConocoPhillips shareholders will vote a similar resolution on May 5, 2004.
Green Tea Compound Could Green Computer ManufacturingARLINGTON, Virginia April 20, 2004 (ENS) - Green tea, long renowned for its beneficial health effects, may also have another hidden benefit. A new biodegradable machining compound for computer hard drive manufacturing is three to four times more effective than toxic counterparts, researchers report.
In an industry where more than 161 million hard drives leave assembly lines each year, the new compound could improve manufacturing efficiency and minimize environmental risks.
Engineered by John Lombardi of Ventana Research Corporation in Tucson, Arizona, as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research grant, the chemical is part of a slurry that polishes the ceramics made from aluminum oxide and titanium carbide used in computer hard drive read-write heads.
"The potential merits of this compound are impressive," said James Rudd, the NSF program officer who oversees Ventana's award. "If confirmed in industrial settings, the three to four fold increase in efficiency could mean substantial reductions in hard drive manufacturing costs, and all with a product that is less corrosive and more environmentally sound."
The new compound is part of a family of machining fluids that bind to polishing debris and rapidly remove tiny particles from the polishing surface. The fluids are critical because imperfections in read-write heads can cause the head to crash into the disk, causing data loss.
Ventana formulates its fluid using a combination of synthetic proteins derived from common commercial chemicals and compounds extracted from green tea and other plants. Compared to many natural machining fluid compounds, which are often rare and expensive, the plant chemicals in the Ventana fluid are abundant and easily extractable.
Those chemicals, the same ones responsible for forming tenacious stains in coffee pots and drinking mugs, grant the Ventana fluid its ability to bind to the particle debris formed while polishing read-write heads.
The fluid's possible biocompatibility and high affinity for ceramics and metals may lead to applications in wastewater treatment, where the compound could remove heavy metal contaminants from water, and medicine, where the compound may have advantages for delivering certain cancer treatments.
How to Construct a Successful WetlandOLYMPIA, Washington, April 20, 2004 (ENS) - Many projects designed to replace lost wetlands do not work as well as intended, so Washington state and federal environmental agencies have joined forces to issue guidance on how to make those projects more successful.
The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday published "Guidance on Wetland Mitigation in Washington State." It was developed under an EPA grant to Ecology to replace guidance from 1994.
Part 1 of the report describes the laws, rules, policies and guidance related to wetland mitigation, or replacement. It is intended to provide an overview of wetland regulatory programs in Washington, describe the basic elements of the mitigation process, and provide detailed guidance on state and federal mitigation policies.
Part 2 provides technical guidance for improving the success of wetland projects that are intended to compensate for wetlands lost through property development and other activities. It identifies the information that the three agencies usually need to review and approve mitigation and monitoring plans, and describes methods for collecting necessary data and preparing those plans.
"We are learning more and more about why some wetland projects succeed and why others fail," said Dana Mock who coordinated the project for Ecology. "There's a lot of time and money being invested in compensating for wetlands that get developed. And when that mitigation fails, it's both a financial and environmental loss."
To be more successful, wetland compensation projects need to be designed better, and also placed in suitable locations that will be self-sustaining over the long term. Planners need to consider whether there is an adequate source of water, the nature of the soils on the site, the landscape position and past uses of the site, whether it has connecting corridors to wildlife habitat or other wetlands, the presence of invasive species that would choke out native plants, and long term maintenance.
Ecology's wetlands manager Andy McMillan said the common practice of constructing compensation wetlands close to the wetlands they are replacing is not always the best practice.
"It's more important to find a location that has the necessary physical characteristics to be successful," McMillan said. "Selecting an appropriate site helps ensure that the new wetland will provide the desired functions and be ecologically effective over the long term."
The guidance was prepared as part of the federal government's National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan, which is being implemented by federal agencies to improve the success of compensatory mitigation nationwide.
Public comment on the draft guidance documents is being accepted through May 18. There are four public hearings scheduled to accept comments on the drafts.
Written comments may be emailed to Dana Mock at Department of Ecology: firstname.lastname@example.org
The report is available online at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/wet-updatedocs.htm.