AmeriScan: April 21, 2004

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Environmental Groups Launch Effort to Beat Bush

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - Three national environmental groups launched a new grassroots effort Tuesday with the singular goal of defeating President George W. Bush and replacing him with John Kerry in November.

The newly formed Environmental Victory Project includes the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, Friends of the Earth Action and the League of Conservation Voters.

The organizations have all been vocal critics of the Bush administration's environmental record, which many environmentalists believe is the worst of any U.S. president in history.

The coalition says its formation "demonstrates the extent of the political coordination inside the environmental community in 2004 and the unity of purpose among environmentalists in the effort to defeat George Bush."

The Environmental Victory Project announced it plans to target swing voters in four battleground states - Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.

"The Bush administration's approach to the environment demonstrates a clear bias towards the interests of corporate polluters at the expense of the health and safety of the public," said League of Conservation Voters president Deb Callahan. "It is time for a change, and the Environmental Victory Project is our agent of change."

The coalition says its effort will be built around an extensive door-to-door campaign, intended to mobilize 25,000 volunteers to knock on the doors of 1.5 million households.

Town Hall meetings, traditional voter contact programs, including phone banks and direct mail, will also be employed, along with an aggressive television advertising effort in markets where environmental volunteers will be knocking on doors.

"Involvement in the political process is new for us, driven by the Bush administration's unprecedented attack on our environmental legacy," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. "It is no contest. John Kerry as President means cleaner air and water, and restored protection of our public lands and wildlife heritage."

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Supreme Court Takes On Mexican Trucks

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a case that centers on whether the Bush administration complied with environmental law when it decided in 2001 to open U.S. highways to trucks from Mexico.

The administration is challenging a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that found it had violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act when it issued interim rules enacting the decision in March 2002.

Those rules, issued by the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), determined the decision would not have a significant environmental impact.

The lower court ruling found that the Bush administration had violated environmental law by announcing in November 2002 that it was opening U.S. highways to long haul trucks from Mexico.

Bush administration officials argued their policy was designed to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the lower court sided with a coalition of public health, environmental and labor organizations who challenged the rules.

Nineteen additional groups, including nine state attorneys general, the city of Los Angeles, Republican House members, the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association, filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to reject the administration's appeal.

The administration's plan would allow some 30,000 diesel trucks from Mexico onto U.S. roads, trucks that critics contend are mostly older, more polluting models.

Opponents of the administration's decision cite a study that indicates by 2010 trucks from Mexico will emit twice as much particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, both harmful air pollutants, as U.S. trucks.

In August 2003 the FMCSA announced - in response to the lower court ruling - that it will develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposal, expected within 12 to 18 months from today. The FMCSA is responsible for ensuring the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles within the United States.

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Army Corps Rolls Forward With Mississippi Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced it will move forward with a $2.3 billion management plan for the Mississippi River despite criticism that the proposal is based on unsupported economic and river traffic data. The plan calls for the expansion of locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers in order to ease traffic congestion through the lock and dam system.

A draft plan will be released to the public in early May.

Conservationists and government watchdog groups say the project is unnecessary and would damage the environment.

"We recognize that Mississippi River navigation plays an important role in the Midwest agricultural economy and adequately funding needs to be provided for its continued operation and maintenance," said Mark Muller with Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "But spending billions of dollars on lock extensions - particularly at a time when agricultural exports have been in decline and any new exports will likely emanate from the West Coast and not the Gulf - is absolutely foolish."

The Corps has been considering the modernization plan since the late 1980s and is keen to build longer locks on the waterway to accommodate barge traffic.

Most of the locks on the river system are 600 feet, while most tows today push multiple barges of 1,000 feet. This has caused traffic congestion on the waterway, the Corps says, but its efforts to ease the backups have been mired in controversy.

The agency was forced to abandon its initial plan in 2000 after the Corps economist for the project, Dr. Donald Sweeney, filed a whistleblower disclosure saying top commanders had altered key numbers in an effort to "cook the books" so that the project would appear justified.

Corps projects must be shown to have benefits that outweigh the costs in order to receive Congressional approval.

A Pentagon investigation and the National Research Council verified the findings of the whistleblower, two generals were disciplined and the agency began work on a new plan.

In a report released in December, the National Research Council concluded that it was "not possible" to evaluate the benefits of lock expansion until an efficient system for managing waterway traffic was implemented.

"Two panels from the National Academy of Sciences have concluded that the Corps is using economic tools like unrealistic traffic forecasts that produce the wrong results." said Scott Faber, water resources specialist with Environmental Defense. "We should not use bad math to decide the future of a river as important to the nation as the Mississippi."

According to the Army Corps, immediate construction of seven new locks and the extension of five existing locks, is necessary because of the potential for a catastrophic breakdown in the navigation system. Critics say this rationale has never been expressed before, let alone predicted or evaluated in any Corps study.

The locks and dams are also subject to regular maintenance, with $140 million spent annually. In addition, according to the Corps, the agency has already spent $400 million since 1975 rehabilitating the system.

"This is a case of twice cooked pork," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represents the economist who was ordered to exaggerate the benefits of the lock expansion project. "But rather than cooking the books, the Corps has thrown out economic textbooks and is now writing fiction."

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Beluga Sturgeon Added to Endangered Species List

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday it is listing beluga sturgeon as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The listing takes effect six months from its April 21, 2004 announcement in the Federal Register.

"Unregulated overfishing, loss of spawning habitat, and poaching to supply the black market beluga caviar trade have all contributed to a notable decrease in the wild beluga sturgeon population," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams.

"Listing beluga sturgeon as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act brings this country's conservation requirements in line with existing international measures for the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)," Williams explained.

Historically, beluga sturgeon inhabited a wide range throughout eastern Europe and central Asia. Now remaining wild beluga sturgeon populations are found only in the Black and Caspian Sea Basins.

In 1998, beluga and all other previously unlisted sturgeons and paddlefish were included in CITES Appendix II, which allows sustainable and controlled international trade for commercial and noncommercial purposes through a system of permits.

All sturgeon and paddlefish and their byproducts must be accompanied by valid CITES documentation to be legally imported into or exported from the United States.

Female beluga sturgeon are considered the world's most valuable commercially harvested fish because they supply beluga caviar, one of the most highly prized delicacies in the world.

The species is long-lived and slow to mature. On average, male fish mature between 10 and 16 years of age and spawn once every four to seven years. Females mature between 14 and 20 years of age and reproduce only once every four to eight years.

A listing as threatened provides a species with specific protections under the ESA and also allows the federal government to issue regulations needed to provide for conservation.

Williams says the Fish and Wildlife Service will soon consider the development of a proposed special rule for beluga sturgeon to address measures it deems necessary to ensure the conservation of the species consistent with CITES provisions.

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Disease Increasing for Marine Organisms

ITHACA, New York April 21, 2004 (ENS) - Disease is increasing among most kinds of marine organisms, according to a long term study by Cornell University and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis based in California.

The study says a host of factors, including global warming, habitat destruction and human overfishing, could be contributing to the increasing sickness among the world's marine life.

The analysis of hundreds of previous studies of marine ecosystem disease is published this month in the journal "Public Library of Science Biology."

The report finds the rate of disease increasing in some types of animals, such as in turtles, mammals, mollusks and urchins, but declining in fish.

But the fewer reports of fish disease over the years are misleading, according to Jessica Ward, a Cornell doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology and lead author of the study.

"Disease in fish populations is decreasing only because their numbers are decreasing, due to overfishing and other factors," Ward said. "Undoubtedly there are fewer and fewer cases of pneumonia among veterans of World War I, but that does not mean the veterans are becoming healthier. They are becoming fewer in number, and so are populations of wild fish."

For many populations, there are too few fish left for disease to be observed, Ward added.

The study finds sea turtles are suffering from large tumors caused by a herpes virus that has spread over the last two decades.

Marine mammals have a variety of viral and bacterial ailments, some of which also seem linked to human activities.

Mollusks, such as commercially farmed oysters, could be experiencing increasing stresses from both climate and aquaculture practices.

Corals had an increase in bleaching. There are a number of stresses or environmental changes that may cause bleaching including disease, increased levels of ultraviolet radiation, sedimentation, pollution, salinity changes, and increased temperatures.

Only sea grasses and sharks display no apparent increases in disease levels, according to the study.

"This is the first quantitative study to provide solid evidence that rates of disease do seem to be increasing in the ocean," said C. Drew Harvell, a Cornell professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and leader of the 15 member Marine Disease Working Group of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis that conducted the study.

"It has been hard to tell if disease is increasing because we did not have proper baselines," Harvell said. "It has been much tougher to understand the frequency of marine disease than it is to monitor for SARS, for example, because the ocean is out of sight and out of mind."

Ward said one future application of the study method might be as a management tool for marine ecosystems in need of conservation, or as an aid for trend spotting and finding underwater populations that need to be studied.

"We are seeing so many emerging diseases that it can be overwhelming, and certainly we have to be careful about how dire we make the risk out to be," she said. "There are so many things we have yet to understand about the sea. My hope is that the methods developed in our paper can be used to identify those groups most in need of conservation."

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Technology Ready to Cut Vehicle Global Warming Pollution

BERKELEY, California, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - Technology already on the road can reduce heat trapping pollution by 20 percent for $600 per vehicle, paying for itself in just over three years, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The report - "Climate Control: Global Warming Solutions for California Cars" - also finds technologies available in the near term could reduce emissions by 40 percent and recoup costs in just over four years.

The research organization released the report this week as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) formally embarked on the first regulatory process in history to reduce global warming emissions from motor vehicles.

In 2002, California passed the Vehicle Global Warming Law that requires the board to set regulations curbing global warming emissions from passenger vehicles beginning in 2009. CARB held its first formal workshop on the issue on Tuesday, in preparation for a draft proposal that will be issued in May and a statewide decision in the fall.

This regulation will be the first of its kind in the world.

"Our research shows that a new fleet using technology some cars already employ could cut global warming pollution by 20 percent while saving California drivers more than $2 billion," said Dr. Louise Bedsworth, UCS senior analyst and author of the new report. "Californians are going to continue to drive the cars that they know and love, they will just have a smaller impact on the environment and their pocketbooks."

The report models a new California fleet using variable valve lift and timing found in Honda models, continuously variable transmissions used in the Saturn Ion, Nissan Murano, and the Mini Cooper, and cylinder deactivation used in 2004 DaimlerChrysler and General Motors models.

When these technologies are applied to all new vehicles sold in California, fleet average global warming emissions are reduced by almost 20 percent.

Californians purchase more than 1.5 million new vehicles each year. As a result of the state’s tough air quality regulations, these vehicles have a smaller impact on local air quality than they did 20 years ago, but their emissions of greenhouse gases have continued to increase.

Mobile sources, including passenger vehicles, account for about half of California’s global warming pollution, making motor vehicles the largest single cause of global warming in the state.

A model year 2000 vehicle sold in California will emit about 90 tons of greenhouse gases from its tailpipe into the atmosphere during its lifetime. More than 95 percent of these gases take the form of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas.

Without action to reduce these emissions, the total amount of carbon dioxide produced by the state's passenger vehicle fleet will almost double by 2040.

While atmospheric changes are occurring on a global scale, the UCS report states, the effect of these changes will be felt locally. The ski industry is already feeling the heat.

"Graphic evidence that temperatures are going up and snow levels are going to recede has focused our industry," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Association. "Our position is quite simply, SUVs are terrific - but clean them up. The technology is out there."

The Union of Concerned Scientists report includes detailed modeling that shows that technologies available in certain vehicles today could dramatically reduce global warming pollution if applied fleet wide.

Many new technologies that could lead to even greater emission reductions are just on the horizon, including stoichiometric direct-injection engines, automated manual transmissions, and 42 volt integrated starter-generators that allow the engine to turn off while idling.

But the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that automakers will fight the regulations, despite the availability of technologies to cut emissions.

"From seatbelts to pollution controls, history has shown that even when automakers have the technology, they will not use it until required by law," Bedsworth said.

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Stars Urge Los Angeles to Kick the Coal Habit

LOS ANGELES, California, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - Hollywood stars sent a letter Tuesday to Los Angeles city officials calling on them to increase the city's use of clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The letter, signed by more than 15 members of the entertainment industry, asked Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn to adopt an official renewables portfolio standard of 20 percent clean energy by 2017.

"As members of the arts and entertainment community in Los Angeles, we are not only concerned about film and television production, but energy production as well," said actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr, one actor who signed the letter. "Los Angeles is at a critical energy crossroads - we should become a leader not just in the entertainment business, but the clean energy industry as well. It is time to kick the coal habit."

Other signatories to the letter are: Peter Abrams, Ed Asner, Alec Baldwin, Hart Bochner, Clancy Brown, James Cromwell, Benicio Del Toro, Mike Farrell, Liberty Godshall, Dennis Haysbert, Peter Horton, Bill Maher, Wendie Malick, William Petersen, Amy Smart, and Ed Zwick.

The letter comes after Mayor Hahn announced earlier this year that his committed to reaching a goal of 20 percent clean energy by 2017.

Two weeks ago, City Councilmember Tony Cardenas ordered the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) to draft such a plan within 60 days.

But to date, no plans have been drafted and neither the mayor's office nor the City Council have defined what energy resources will be counted toward this 20 percent goal. The letter's signatories worry that this leaves open the possibility that the DWP could include nonrenewable resources such as large dams and natural gas power plant upgrades.

The DWP, the largest publicly owned utility in the country, sources more than 50 percent of its electricity from coal fired power plants. Combined with local natural gas power plants, it generates more than 75 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels that cause smog, global warming, and mercury pollution.

The department gets less than three percent from renewable resources such as wind power, compared to a 12 percent state average.

The California Legislature exempted the utility from the specific requirements of the California Clean Energy Act that requires state utilities to generate at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2017.

Instead, the state law requires the DWP and other municipal utilities to determine their own clean energy goals - other municipal utilities, such as Burbank and Sacramento, have already adopted clean energy plans equivalent to the state's goals.

"Los Angeles has dragged its feet, investing in more coal and natural gas," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California Research and Policy Center, a statewide environmental organization. "Renewable energy is good for our environment and our economy, and we hope this Hollywood spotlight sets the stage for a happy ending in which Los Angeles becomes a national leader in the shift to clean energy."

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Lawn Chemicals Raise Cancer Risk for Scottish Terriers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana, April 21, 2004 (ENS) - Exposure to herbicide treated lawns and gardens increases the risk of bladder cancer in Scottish terriers, according to a team of veterinary researchers.

The veterinarians say this discovery could lead to new knowledge about human susceptibility to the disease.

The study may be useful not only for its revelation of potentially carcinogenic substances in the environment, but also because studying the breed may help physicians pinpoint genes in humans that signal susceptibility to bladder cancer, according to Lawrence Glickman, a professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine in Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine.

The research appears in the current issue of the "Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association."

The researchers chose to examine Scottish terriers because the breed has a history of developing bladder cancer far more frequently than other breeds.

In an earlier study, Glickman and his colleagues found Scotties are already about 20 times more likely to develop bladder cancer as other breeds.

"These dogs are more sensitive to some factors in their environment," Glickman said. "As pets tend to spend a fair amount of time in contact with plants treated with herbicides and insecticides, we decided to find out whether lawn chemicals were having any effect on cancer frequency."

Glickman's group obtained their results by surveying the owners of 83 Scottish terriers - all of the animals had bladder cancer and were of approximately the same age.

Owners documented their dogs' housing, duration of exposure to the lawn or garden and information on the particular lawn treatment used.

The results were then compared with a control group of 83 unexposed Scottish terriers of similar age that were undergoing treatment for unrelated ailments.

"We found that the occurrence of bladder cancer was between four and seven times higher in the group exposed to herbicides," Glickman said. "The level of risk corresponded directly with exposure to these chemicals: The greater the exposure, the higher the risk."

Glickman said the similarity between dog and human genomes could lead researchers to find the gene in humans that makes them susceptible to developing bladder cancer.

"If such a gene exists in dogs, it is likely that it exists in a similar location in the human genome," he said. "Finding the dog gene could save years in the search for it in humans and could also help us determine which kids need to stay away from lawn chemicals."