AmeriScan: April 29, 2005

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Congress Endorses Budget Resolution Allowing Arctic Drilling

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - Congressional negotiators from the House and Senate reached agreement Thursday on a budget blueprint that includes $2.4 billion in leasing revenues from oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Senate Democrats failed by a vote of 51 to 49 to remove the provision affecting the refuge from the 2006 budget conference report resolution.

This resolution is a framework for the budget - it is not something that will be signed by President George W. Bush, and all provisions are subject to change.

Although the resolution does not mention the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by name, conservation groups working to keep drilling out of the refuge say it is intended to provide the chairmen of the House Resources and Senate Energy Committees everything they need to push drilling through by circumventing the normal 60 vote requirement for controversial legislation in the Senate.

Both committees’ chairmen, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Representative Richard Pombo of California, have made it clear that they will try to use these instructions to force Arctic drilling through the reconciliation bill.

By requiring those committees to “reduce spending” by $2.4 billion over 6 years, the budget conferees are sending those committees a clear and unambiguous signal to “drill away,” said a statement by a coalition of groups that includes: the Alaska Wilderness League, the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, the Gwich’in Steering Committee, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Trustees for Alaska, and the US Public Interest Research Group.

"It is no coincidence," the groups said, "that $2.4 billion is almost exactly the federal share of the unrealistic projection for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leasing revenue released several months ago by the Congressional Budget Office.

At Thursday’s press conference, Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, acknowledged that this budget resolution would allow the Senate to consider drilling in the filibuster-proof reconciliation bill.

REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, does not support the budget resolution because it opens the door to drilling in the refuge.

“We are thankful for the Republicans in the House and Senate who voted against the budget conference report. Unfortunately, they couldn’t overcome the faulty thinking on Capitol Hill that yesterday’s ideas are the solution to today’s energy problems,” said Jim DiPeso, REP America policy director.

Calling drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge "a distraction that fails to solve the critical energy problems facing America," DiPeso said, “The central energy problem facing our nation is overdependence on oil, an increasingly dangerous habit that exposes America to serious economic, environmental, and security risks."

“The single most important step we must take now is lowering oil consumption by strengthening motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards," DiPeso said, a view in line with that of most environmental groups.

“Between now and 2025, American oil demand will rise by a projected eight million barrels per day," DiPeso pointed out. "There is no prospect whatsoever that drilling the Arctic Refuge would close the gap. If we do nothing to curb demand, imports will fill the gap – which means more dependence on OPEC, more exposure to price shock, and more potential for international conflict."

"This vote is another example of the extraordinary disconnect between public opinion and Congressional action," said the coalition of environmental groups, citing the hundreds of thousands of letters, emails, and faxes opposing Arctic refuge drilling. The groups, which together represent millions of members, say they will encourage members to contact their Congressional representatives again to express their views.

"We have a moral responsibility to save wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for future generations," the groups state.

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Senate Confirms Johnson as EPA Administrator

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - Early this morning, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Stephen Johnson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A biologist and pathologist Johnson has been with the agency for 24 years. He has been serving as acting administrator since January 26.

The Senate approved Johnson's nomination over the objection of Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who had placed a hold on the nomination.

About 12:30 this morning, the Senate voted to invoke cloture and remove Carper's hold. The cloture vote of 61-37 was largely along party lines with all Republicans, with the exception of Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi who did not vote, and seven Democrats in favor of removing the hold on Johnson.

Following the initial cloture vote, the nomination was voted on by voice vote and Johnson was unanimously confirmed to be the 11th EPA administrator.

Carper said he moved to block Johnson's confirmation because for three years the EPA has denied his request for a detailed analysis of various clean air proposals before Congress, including a bill he proposed.

“I may have lost the vote today," said Carper, "but I think I sent a clear message that the White House and federal agencies have a responsibility to provide Congress with information that will help us write good, balanced legislation."

"I’ve said from the outset that I believe Stephen Johnson is a good man and he’s well-qualified to head the EPA," Carper said."My argument hasn’t been with him. It’s been with the White House and its continued refusal to provide me with information on my clean air bill and other proposals before Congress."

"I hope that the White House will let Stephen Johnson do his job and do it well," said the Delaware Democrat. "The Bush administration hasn’t had the best track record in that department, in some instances stifling the previous two administrators – both friends of mine, Christie Whitman and Mike Leavitt. I hope that will change, and that we all can work together to write a bipartisan clean air bill this year.”

During his testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this month Johnson vowed to use his experience and science background to accelerate the progress of environmental protection. Johnson committed himself "to advance the President’s environmental agenda while maintaining economic competitiveness."

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Environmental, Native Groups Support Right to Filibuster

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - The leaders of 17 conservation and Native American groups weighed in Thursday on the so-called "nuclear option" that would remove the right of senators to oppose judicial nominees by prolonged speechmaking, or filibustering.

The leaders sent a letter to the Senate urging opposition to any rule change that would eliminate the right of senators to filibuster judicial nominees. They contend that removing the right to filibuster would allow the placement of "unqualified and patently biased nominees" that will affect environmental protections for decades.

"Safeguarding our nation's citizens from air and water pollution, as well as protecting our fish and wildlife and National Parks, forests, and other wildlands for future generations, depends on fair and independent judges," the groups wrote.

"Americans rely on the Senate to deny lifetime judicial seats to nominees who would place ideology ahead of the fair interpretation of our nation's statutes and the U.S. Constitution," they wrote.

For more than 200 years, Senate rules have permitted filibusters of judicial nominees to prevent any one political party from ramming through nominees who would place political agendas ahead of the fundamental rights of the American people.

Earthjustice, the nonprofit, public interest law firm and one of the groups that signed the letter, said that "the handful of President Bush's nominees who have been blocked by filibusters includes several whose records prove that they have consistently favored corporate interests over clean air and safe drinking water."

The Senate has approved more than 200 of the nominees proposed by President George W. Bush, but has withheld approval of 10 nominees.

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Storm Water Funds Retained in Transportation Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate has voted to retain a new clean water program in the transportation bill now moving through Congress. By a vote of 51-49, the Senate rejected an effort by Senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, to strip out new storm water mitigation funds to reduce water pollution from interstate highways and other federal roads.

The move drew praise from conservationists. "Everybody knows that cars pollute the air," said Betsy Otto, senior director for river advocacy at American Rivers. "Today, the Senate recognized that runoff from roads pollutes our water and took a step towards doing something about it."

The stormwater provision of the transportation bill earmarks a portion of federal highway spending - $868 million over the next five years - to retrofit federally funded roads to reduce the amount of polluted storm water rushing into nearby streams, rivers, and lakes.

The federal government has long invested a portion of the transportation trust fund to reducing the amount of air pollution from cars and trucks on federal roads.

More than 5,000 cities, towns and counties must now meet Clean Water Act storm water regulations - and many large cities already manage storm water pollution - in order to meet discharge permits and other Clean Water Act regulations.

Storm water runoff from roads causes local flooding and increases drinking water treatment costs downstream. The funding in the Senate transportation bill would help local communities address the water quality problems they suffer from road runoff.

Republican Senators John Warner of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, championed a provision in this year's bill that would set aside three pennies out of every 10 dollars of federal transportation dollars to reduce water pollution.

The provision was supported by a broad coalition of mayors, environmental and smart-growth advocates, state water pollution control agencies, floodplain managers, and water and sewer authorities.

According to the American Highway Users Alliance, there are 956,000 miles of federal interstates and surface roads in the United States, amounting to some 9.4 million acres of pavement. Using conservative assumptions, conservationists estimate that this pavement generates enough stormwater to send surprisingly large amounts of pollution into America's waters, including:

"This clean water provision may prove to be the silver lining on in a piece of legislation that is otherwise dismal for the environment," Otto said. "We urge the House and Senate conferees to retain this critical new funding program as they craft the final bill."

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Insecticides Linked to Lasting Human Nervous System Disorders

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - Farmers who used agricultural insecticides experienced increased symptoms of nervous system disorders, even when they were no longer using the products, new research by federal government scientists shows.

The research is part of the ongoing Agricultural Health Study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Cancer Institute, two of the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Data from 18,782 North Carolina and Iowa farmers linked use of insecticides, including organophosphates and organochlorines, to reports of reoccurring headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, hand tremors, numbness and other neurological symptoms.

s Some of the insecticides addressed by the study are still on the market, but some, including DDT, have been banned or restricted.

"This research is really important because it evaluated the health effects of agricultural chemicals as they were commonly used by farmers. It's different from previous studies that focused on pesticide poisoning or high dose exposures, for example when large amounts of a chemical were accidentally spilled on the skin," said NIEHS researcher Freya Kamel, Ph.D.

The researchers examined questionnaires completed by farmers on lifetime exposure to herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and fumigants, and their history of 23 neurological symptoms. Those who reported experiencing more than 10 symptoms during the year prior to completing a study questionnaire were classified as having high levels of symptoms.

Researchers found that nearly 3,000 participants had a high lifetime exposure to insecticides - that is, they used insecticides more than 500 days in their lifetime. Nearly 800 of these farmers reported more than 10 neurological symptoms compared to those using insecticides fewer than 50 days.

The researchers found no significant association between neurological symptoms and other chemicals, including herbicides or fungicides, and only a weak association between fumigant exposure and neurological symptoms.

Some of the insecticides used by the licensed farmers over the past 25 years are no longer available commercially. DDT, a well known example of an organochlorine, has been banned for use in the US since 1972.

Organophosphates, such as malathion, chlorypyrifos, and diazinon, have been banned or restricted for home and garden use in the United States.

But some of the pesticides examined, including carbaryl and some pyrethroids, are available to home gardeners, although in different formulations and in lower concentrations, which may make them less hazardous, the NIEHS said.

"Because the participants in this study are telling us they have never been previously diagnosed with pesticide poisoning or medically treated for any exposure to any pesticide, we are led to conclude that their symptoms are related to moderate lifetime exposure," said Dr. Kamel.

"Most studies of this issue have sample sizes ranging from 50 to 100 participants, making it hard to understand the detailed relationship between exposure and health effects. The large size of this study gives it great statistical power," said Dr. Kamel.

These findings will be published in the June issue of "Environmental Health Perspectives," a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Maryland Mute Swan Kill Postponed

WASHINGTON, DC, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials have agreed to comply with a federal judge’s request that the state delay for at least a month its plans to kill 2,000 mute swans in the Chesapeake Bay.

Earlier this week residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Fund for Animals filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt Maryland’s plan to kill mute swans, which was scheduled to begin on May 15. Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington DC held a status hearing Thursday, which led to postponement of the swan killing program.

A hearing on plaintiff groups' motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for June 3.

The DNR views mute swans as an invasive, nonnative species that now inhabit the Chesapeake Bay in large numbers. The mute swan population in Maryland increased dramatically between 1986 and 1999, the agency says and predicts that unless some are culled, "the swan population may have exceeded 30,000 birds by 2010."

The DNR's mute swan management program aims to exclude or remove all mute swans from “Swan-Free Areas,” reduce the mute swan population as quickly and efficiently as possible, and prevent the escape and reproduction of captive mute swans, among other measures such as public education about the dangers mute swans pose to the ecosystem.

Swan advocates filed the lawsuit last week after the DNR refused an offer by The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) to develop a humane egg-addling program for mute swans. Such programs have successfully resolved conflicts over waterfowl populations in several states.

Two years ago, the same plaintiffs sought and obtained a preliminary injunction halting DNR’s plans to kill hundreds of mute swans. The swan killing program was stopped because the state was unable to produce any credible scientific evidence that swans are harming the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

“We are pleased that the state’s plans to shoot adult mute swans have been put on hold,” said HSUS Senior Vice President Dr. John Grandy after the ruling on Thursday.

“We hope that today’s temporary reprieve will become permanent, and that the state can turn its attention to addressing the real threats to the Chesapeake Bay, like pollution from factory farms and sewage treatment plants.”

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Report: California Could Buy Its Way Out of Solar Power Subsidies

SACRAMENTO, California, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - California can make solar power affordable for the average homeowner and business within 10 years, says the Environment California's Research & Policy Center in a new report issued this week.

Using an economic model based on the theory of “progress ratio” in which industry experience and price are inversely related, the report estimates the upfront cost of solar power could drop to the point where government rebates are no longer needed by 2016.

“The biggest roadblock to solar power becoming as mainstream as McDonald’s is its price tag,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with the Environment California Research & Policy Center and co-author of the report. “By driving up demand, California can catapult solar power from the backwoods boutique of the '70s to having its own aisle at Home Depot.”

The report, "Bringing Solar to Scale: What California Can Do to Create a Thriving, Self-Sufficient Residential Solar Market," details how developing a thriving, self-sufficient solar power market can benefit the state - reducing air pollution, protecting consumers from volatile electricity prices, and reducing the need for expensive upgrades to electricity transmission and distribution systems.

“Energy independence, clean air, lower electric bills - making solar power mainstream will benefit everyone,” said Del Chiaro, whose nonprofit group Environment California represents 80,000 members.

The report advises that the best way to lower solar power costs is for California to commit to long-term market development through financial incentives and new construction design policies.

Experience in California and in other countries, especially Japan, has shown that such government programs can increase demand, lower prices, and ultimately lead to a robust, self-sufficient solar market in which government incentives are no longer needed to drive demand, Del Chiaro says.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced a legislative proposal in February for a million solar roofs in the state within 10 years. The measure would extend the current structure of financial incentives for 10 years on a declining schedule of no less than seven percent per year.

The Million Solar Roofs Bill, SB 1, co-authored by State Senators Kevin Murray, a Los Angeles Democrat, and John Campbell, an Orange County Republican, passed its first policy committee vote in the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

“Today’s vote shows that legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that solar power is a common-sense solution to California’s energy and air pollution problems,” said Del Chiaro.

Most environmentalists have endorsed the idea of one million solar roofs, but there have been doubts that the subsidies paid would outpace the benefits of solar power. Solar dealers outside of California expressed concern that all the solar panels now available for the rest of the country would be sent to meet the demand in California.

The report "Bringing Solar to Scale" is available at: www.environmentcalifornia.org

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