AmeriScan: April 30, 2004

* * *

U.S. Budget Crunch Puts Fisheries Management at Risk

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - An international meeting planned for late this year will be the first one to address the problem of mortality of endangered sea turtles from fishing gear on a global basis, a U.S. State Department official says.

In congressional testimony Thursday, David Balton, deputy assistant secretary of state, said the technical consultation scheduled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), would promote research into modifying fishing gear and fishing practices to reduce sea turtle bycatch - incidental, unintended catch - by fishing boats.

But Balton had a warning for the legislators. He criticized Congress for appropriating less money than required to pay full U.S. dues to several international fisheries management regimes. He warned that if the United States continued to be in arrears it might lose its standing in those groups and ultimately its fishing rights.

This will be a busy year for fisheries management work on a global level, and the Bush administration wants to be part of it.

From June 24 to 29 the FAO will convene another technical consultation, said Balton, at which FAO members can reach agreement on how to carry out the steps outlined in the International Plan of Action on reducing excess fishing capacity and how to find successful deterrents to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

A third consultation will take place June 30 to July 2 on the use of subsidies in the fisheries sector. Balton said this meeting would aim to involve regional fisheries management regimes in the effort to reduce turtle bycatch, including measures that could be adopted immediately.

The FAO will also host a technical consultation from October 19 to 22 on ecolabeling, Balton said, calling it "a complex and difficult subject."

Many producers of seafood products, and some governments, are trying to respond to demands by consumers not only for information about the country of origin, but also information about the sustainability of production of the seafood they purchase.

Some say that independent "third party" bodies, rather than the producers of the seafood products, should be the ones to award ecolabels that attest that the product was harvested or produced sustainably. A meeting of experts convened by the FAO in December 2003 endorsed that approach. Others predict that such an approach will lead to problems.

"The overall picture concerning international fisheries remains worrisome, in my view," Balton told the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans of the House Committee on Resources. "With other governments, the United States is grappling with problems of overfishing, overcapacity and depletion of key fish stocks."

Balton described three new international fisheries conservation agreements for which the Bush administration will soon seek Senate approval for U.S. ratification:

Balton reiterated U.S. opposition to research whaling activities of Iceland and Japan and to Norway's commercial whale hunt.

But Balton had a warning for the legislators. He criticized Congress for appropriating less money than required to pay full U.S. dues to several international fisheries management regimes. He warned that if the United States continued to be in arrears it might lose its standing in those groups and ultimately its fishing rights.

"U.S. dues and related expenses for the international fisheries commissions have, in recent years, amounted to approximately $20 million annually, of which about 60 percent represents U.S. contributions to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission," Balton told the subcommittee.

In fiscal year 2003, Congress provided only about $17 million for these purposes, and allocated no funding for the Pacific Salmon Commission that year - the costs of which typically amount to $2.25 million annually.

By reprogramming funds, the Bush administration was able to pay enough to most commissions to allow essential work to proceed. However, the United States remains in arrears in our contributions to several commissions, despite an increase in funding in FY 2004, said Balton, explaining that the government would have to reprogram funds again this year to keep from losing its standing.

He also called the subcommittee's attention to commitments made in the Yukon River Salmon Agreement that may require increased funding in the Interior Department budget.

* * *

Diesel Spill Contaminates California Marsh

SUISUN CITY, California, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - A ruptured underground pipeline has released an unknown amount of diesel fuel into Suisun Marsh, which feeds into San Francisco Bay, the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday. Up to a million gallons is estimated to have entered the water in an area about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The pipeline is owned by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP), whose computerized control system detected an operational problem Wednesday night and shut down the 14 inch pipeline. Land crews and an aerial patrol were dispatched to find the location of the leak.

KMP, utilizing Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), is responding to the spill. Shortly before nightfall, MSRC began deploying boom to contain the oil and laying down pads to absorb it.

California Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also have personnel at the scene. The responding agencies, along with KMP, set up an Incident Command Post near the spill site as a central hub for coordination of the response effort.

The Coast Guard’s Pacific Strike Team, a specialized oil spill response unit is assisting in boom deployment. Tide control gates in the area were closed to mitigate the extent of the oil’s impact. Preliminary indications are that product is currently contained within a diked area and has not reached Suisun Slough.

All agencies are working together to mitigate the spill's impact and reduce environmental damage. Environmental assessments will be conducted today to determine mitigation strategies. The cause of the release is currently under investigation.

A telephone claims number has been established to deal with damage claims at: 713-369-8920.

* * *

Fridge Maker Settles Smog Suit with $3.4 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - True Manufacturing Co., a maker of commercial refrigeration equipment in O'Fallon, Missouri, near St. Louis, has agreed to a $3.4 million settlement to resolve Clean Air Act and other environmental claims brought by the federal government.

Announcing the settlement Wednesday, the Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said True has agreed to reduce its emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by more than 94 tons per year. VOCs are one of the main components of ground-level ozone, or smog.

The company's silk screening operation uses large amounts of VOCs, which combine with nitrogen oxides to create smog that harms human health and the environment.

The company has also agreed to stop the emission of 44 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants that can be harmful by themselves.

The company will pay a $1.5 million fine and to spend some $1.9 million on supplemental environmental projects designed to reduce VOC emissions from its plant.

True will replace all of its solvent based ink presses with presses that use ultraviolet light to cure ink. The company will also install three silkscreen cleaning machines that are enclosed systems with solvent recovery, and install a water filtration system.

When the projects are complete, True will have reduced emissions more than required by law and regulations, the federal agencies said.

The lawsuit brought by the federal government alleges that True failed to obtain permits and install controls required by the Missouri State Implementation Plan. The plan, devised by the state and approved by the EPA, is designed to ensure that the state meets federal air quality standards.

O'Fallon is in the St. Louis area, which was designated an ozone non-attainment area at the time that True installed and operated the equipment.

The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, also resolves violations disclosed by True according to the EPA's Self-Disclosure Policy. True told federal authorities about violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act at its O'Fallon plant.

The company now must complete an integrated contingency plan for the plant as part of the settlement. It must include a hazardous waste contingency plan and an Occupational Safety and Health Plan. It must also include a storm water pollution prevention plan and a spill prevention control and countermeasure plan under the Clean Water Act.

EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford, in Kansas City, Kansas, said, “This settlement will help give residents of the O'Fallon area cleaner, healthier air to breathe.”

Scientific evidence indicates that certain levels of ozone not only affect people with impaired respiratory systems, such as asthmatics, but healthy adults and children as well. Ozone is responsible for several billion dollars of agricultural crop yield loss each year in the United States alone.

* * *

Appalachian Forest Land Plans Appealed as Illegal

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation groups is challenging U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plans to increase roadbuilding and commercial logging at the expense of protecting water quality and wild areas on the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The groups filed an administrative appeal of the Jefferson long range land use management plan with USFS headquarters in Washington on Wednesday. It is one of several appeals of national forest plans in five Southern Appalachian states that were filed this week in a coordinated effort by local, state and national groups.

They are charging the agency with violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The groups challenging the Jefferson forest plan charge that the agency failed to adequately protect roadless areas, and they failed to expand wilderness designations to meet public demand for backcountry recreation.

In addition, the groups claim that the agency failed to require sufficient buffer zones to prevent muddy runoff into mountain streams, many of which form the headwaters for community drinking water supplies.

They also criticize the USFS for increasing by more than 33 percent the planned timber harvest on the 723,300 acre forest compared to the last decade.

“We hoped to avoid appealing the plan," said Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) attorney David Carr. "But the Forest Service, under the Bush Administration, has aggressively pursued development rather than conservation of the natural resources on our public lands, including the Jefferson, against scientific principles and public objections."

The non-profit law center filed the appeal on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition.

WildLaw, another non-profit law group, is filing a similar appeal of the Jefferson plan on behalf of Virginia Forest Watch and other groups.

It was a busy week for SELC and WildLaw, as their lawyers filed appeals of other forest plans in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

“These plans took a fundamental shift after the 2000 elections,” said Hugh Irwin, ecologist for Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, which has been involved in the forest planning process from the start. “Over the last several years we’ve seen a breakdown in communication between the public and the Forest Service with less willingness on their part to seek out and listen to comments. The increase in logging targets and decrease in protection of roadless and other special areas is the end result.”

Initial drafts of the Jefferson management plan four years ago provided broader environmental protections than the old plan, and were the result of input from a variety of forest users. But the plan was weakened by the current administration in final versions released earlier this year, the groups complain.

The plan would allow logging of 21.2 million board feet per year from about 36 percent of the forest, which the agency has determined to be “suitable” land, more than twice the average harvest from 1997 to 2000.

This figure does not include the logging that will be allowed on "unsuitable" land for insect and disease control, fuel reduction and other non-timber objectives.

The Jefferson has 156,100 acres of identified roadless area. A federal rule adopted in January 2001 in the last days of the Clinton administration gave lasting protection to all the nation’s roadless areas, but the Bush administration has blocked it. If the rule is ultimately reversed, the groups warn, 79 percent of the Jefferson’s roadless acreage would be vulnerable to logging, roadbuilding or other harmful activities under the new management plan.

* * *

Los Angeles Enacts Smokefree Beaches Law

LOS ANGELES, California, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - Tobacco smokers can no longer light up on Los Angeles beaches. The Los Angeles City Council last week voted to ban cigarette smoking on City beaches, a proposal made by Councilmember Jack Weiss.

“Smoking has devastating health and environmental impacts, and today we made a bold step toward reducing this devastation in our community,'' Weiss said.

Cigarettes are the most common litter on California’s beaches, and most are deliberately left in the sand and surrounding areas by smokers. During the California Coastal Commission’s 2002 Coastal Cleanup Day more than 300,000 cigarettes were removed from the coastal area. This is more than the next five pollutants combined.

Rob Reiner, a leading advocate for anti-smoking programs, submitted a letter in support of the ban. Representatives from the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Surfrider Foundation, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Tobacco Control Program, and Communities Organized Against Smoking and Its Trash, testified in support of the proposal.

Recently several cities and states have enacted or have considered enacting bans on cigarette smoking on beaches to reduce the environmental damage and health risks caused by smoking, but Los Angeles is the largest U.S. city to take this action.

The beach smoking ban in Los Angeles creates a continuous 13 mile stretch of smokefree coastline connecting Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Clemente, and Solana Beach. The City of Santa Monica, which earlier outlawed smoking in city parks, recently gave tentative approval to a similar no-smoking ordinance on its beaches.

“I hope this is the beginning of a change in attitude, where smoking on beaches becomes socially unacceptable. Then families and children can enjoy cleaner, safer beaches without wafts of smoke in the ocean breezes,” said Weiss.

* * *

Licensing for Advanced Nuclear Power Plants to Be Tested

WASHINGTON, DC, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - The nuclear power industry is gathering its forces to build the next generation of nuclear plants. Two groups of energy companies have announced that they will participate in a joint industry-U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program to demonstrate and test the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s new licensing process for an advanced nuclear power plant.

Seven companies announced March 31 that they are forming a consortium that will work with DOE to test the new combined license to construct and operate an advanced reactor.

The companies are Constellation Generation Group, a subsidiary of Constellation Energy, Baltimore; EDF International North America, Washington, a ubsidiary of the large French utility; Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Mississippi; Exelon Generation of Philadelphia; Southern Company of Atlanta; and two nuclear reactor vendors, Westinghouse Electric Co. of Pittsburgh, and GE Energy’s nuclear operations based in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The companies have signed a memorandum of understanding expressing their intent to form the consortium. Neither the planned consortium nor its members are making a commitment to build a new nuclear unit at this time.

Another consortium, led by Dominion Generation, submitted a proposal to DOE on March 17. AECL Technologies, a subsidiary of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. (AECL); Bechtel Power Corp.; Hitachi America are partnering with Dominion Generation.

This consortium has not committed to building a new nuclear power plant at this time, but both groups have their eyes on the future.

“We must keep the nuclear energy option open for the future,” said Chris Crane, president and chief nuclear officer of Exelon Nuclear. “To protect consumers against spiking energy prices and for our own national security, we need to maintain fuel diversity in the energy industry.”

The consortia are responding to a solicitation from DOE last November asking energy companies for proposals to test the NRC’s new Combined Construction and Operating License (COL) process.

The process is part of DOE’s Nuclear Power 2010 program, established by the Bush administration to facilitate the development of advanced technology reactors.

The groups’ goal in testing the COL process is to reduce any business uncertainties for companies interested in building new nuclear plants. The untested COL process was established by Congress in the 1992 Energy Policy Act to streamline the licensing of new plants.

“Advanced nuclear plants offer a promising potential - passive safety designs, stable fuel prices, lower production costs than other fuels used to generate electricity, and a very low environmental impact,” said Gary Taylor, president, CEO and chief nuclear officer of Entergy Nuclear.

Exelon Nuclear Vice President Marilyn Kray will serve as the consortium’s executive lead and DOE contact.

The proposals, if approved and co-funded by DOE, would determine the best cost estimate for building and operating a new nuclear plant. More detailed engineering work would be done on advanced nuclear reactor designs than ever before.

The two reactor designs selected by the consortium for further engineering work are Westinghouse’s Advanced Passive 1000 and General Electric’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, a 1,400 megawatt design.

The team led by Dominion is using AECL’s advanced Candu reactor design for its proposal.

The seven-member consortium plans to submit the COL application to the NRC in 2008. After a decision by the NRC, projected in late 2010, any combination of the consortium’s members could use the COL, should they decide to build a new plant.

* * *

Sea Slug Protein Could Replace Toxic Anti-Fouling Paint

ATLANTA, Georgia, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - A protein generated by the common sea slug could be the next big product in the marine coatings industry. Scientists from Georgia State University say a natural or synthetic form of the protein could be manufactured as an environmentally friendly alternative to toxic heavy metals, such as copper, normally applied on boat hulls to prevent biofilm development.

Biofilm formation is the precursor to the growth of barnacles and other damaging organisms that must be removed through costly and time-consuming processes.

A research team led by Georgia State University biologist Charles Derby has identified the genetic sequence of an anti-microbial protein called Escapin found in the ink of the common Aplysia sea slug or hare.

When encountering predators, sea slugs discharge a purple ink containing Escapin which chemically resembles toxins of some venomous snakes. Among its properties, the protein causes foreign cells to lyse or explode and prevents bacteria from growing on sea hares.

Derby, whose team has sequenced, cloned and expressed Escapin, has filed a provisional patent for Escapin's genetic sequence.

The finding could be used in the development of new anti-bacterial industrial compounds to prevent the formation of damaging biofilms on marine materials such as ship hulls, fishing traps and nets.

He plans to submit an academic paper for publication on the protein within the next several months. His research team includes former doctorate student and postdoctoral researcher Paul Johnson, GSU researchers Hsiuchin Yang, Phang Tai and Cynthia Kicklighter.

Derby is associated with the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center consisting of more than 90 neuroscientists at eight metro Atlanta colleges and universities, which conducts research on the basic neurobiology of complex social behaviors.

* * *

Squaxin Island Tribe Tracks Salmon With Acoustic Transmitters

KALMILCHE, Washington, April 30, 2004 (ENS) - The Squaxin Island Tribe is using innovative technology to track juvenile coho salmon as they make their way out to the ocean. The tribe will be implanting tiny transmitters into juvenile coho allowing researchers to track the young fish as they make their way out to the ocean. An array of acoustic receivers located south of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will track the fish as they begin their ocean migration.

“We know that in general salmon leave Puget Sound and head out into the ocean and return after a few years,” said Jeff Dickison, policy analyst with the Squaxin Island Tribe. “We’ve never been able to track them with this level of detail.”

When a tagged smolt passes between a pair of receivers, its individual frequency is picked up, allowing it to be tracked for several hundred yards. “If these salmon stay south of the Tacoma Narrows for any length of time, we are going to be able to gather a lot of detailed information,” said Dickison.

“This is one of the first times anyone will get a close look at the behavior of individual salmon migrating in saltwater,” he said.

A weak hatchery coho run in 1999 convinced the Squaxin Island Tribe that they had to find out what happened to the juvenile salmon once they were released from the tribe’s netpen facility in Peale Passage.

South Sound hatchery coho returns were worse compared to already low runs across the Puget Sound, and no one knew why. “It wasn’t freshwater mortalities, these salmon are kept in saltwater netpens until they’re ready to be released,” said Dickison. “It was something that was happening out in the Sound or out in the ocean.”

Compared to earlier techniques of tracking salmon, such as coded wire tags inserted in the snouts of juvenile salmon, acoustic tagging is timelier and provides much more information. “With coded wire tags, you basically have two pieces of data, where the salmon was released and where it died, whether in a stream after spawning or after harvest,” said Dickison. “But with acoustic tags, you can track many other aspects of salmon life in saltwater. For example, where a salmon might be feeding or how fast it travels through a particular area.”

The tribe’s effort will be bolstered by the “Pacific Ocean Salmon Tracking Project,” which has set up acoustic receivers along Johnston Strait on the north end of Vancouver Island. The Canadian research effort has plans for expanding their array possibly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. “The small networks of acoustic receivers can be brought together, giving us a clear picture of how salmon use the ocean,” said Dickison.

The acoustic tracking program, backed by Hatchery Reform funds, is expected to lead to more effective hatchery operations that are better integrated with the South Sound ecosystem, said Dickison. Hatchery Reform is a systematic, science-driven joint effort between treaty tribes and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to recover and conserve naturally spawning salmon populations while supporting sustainable fisheries.