Environmentalists Challenge Permit for Missouri Cement KilnST. LOUIS, Missouri, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - Four environmental groups filed suit in federal court Wednesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Holcim Inc. challenging the federal agency's decision to issue permits authorizing Holcim to construct a cement manufacturing facility along the banks of the Mississippi River.
The organizations say the Corps issued the permits without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
"If ever there needed to be an EIS, it is for this plant," said Bea Covington, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE). "It would have unprecedented environmental impacts, be the largest cement kiln in North America and would emit more than 26,000 tons of air pollution annually."
The suit was filed in the Eastern District of Missouri by the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, based in Chicago on behalf of MCE, the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, Webster Groves Nature Study Society, and the American Bottom Conservancy.
The environmentalists believe the construction of a cement kiln at the proposed location would convert an undeveloped and ecologically rich site along the banks of the Mississippi in Saint Genevieve, Missouri into a "heavily industrialized and highly polluting cement manufacturing facility."
Four thousand acres of "undisturbed prime habitat for birds, endangered Indiana Bats and other wildlife are about to be destroyed," said Yvonne Homeyer, president of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society
"Given the extraordinary habitat value of this land, it should be preserved as a natural area instead of being converted into a round-the-clock heavy industrial complex," Homeyer said.
The plaintiffs say the Corps made its decision to issue the permits without an EIS despite requests for the environmental assessment from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Conservation, Illinois EPA, Missouri Governor Bob Holden, Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, legislators from Missouri and Illinois, 10 national conservation groups and thousands of citizens in the region.
The region already has air quality problems, said Kathy Andria, president of American Bottom Conservancy, based in East St. Louis.
She said that the proposed cement kiln will worsen air quality throughout the region and will negatively impact existing industries and the region's potential for economic growth.
"It would be irresponsible of us not to challenge this permit.," Andria said.
Critical Habitat for Vernal Pool Species ReducedSACRAMENTO, California, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated some 740,000 acres in 30 California counties and one Oregon county as critical habitat for 15 wetland animals and plants listed as threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The final designation, announced Wednesday, represents a reduction in acreage from the approximately 1.7 million acres the agency proposed as critical habitat in September 2002.
This critical habitat designation was completed in response to a court settlement with the Butte Environmental Council, which sued the agency in 2000 for failing to designate critical habitat for four vernal pool crustaceans.
The Bush administration is the only presidency not to have designated a single critical habitat except under court order.
Those that it has designated have, on average, reduced Fish and Wildlife Service proposals for critical habitat by 76 percent. This compares to an average reduction of nine percent under the Clinton administration.
The species included in the critical habitat designation are four types of freshwater shrimp - the conservancy fairy shrimp, longhorn fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, and vernal pool fairy shrimp; and 11 plants that depend on seasonally flooded wetlands known as vernal pools.
According to officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the reduction is due to: refined mapping techniques, which resulted in a more accurate assessment of habitat lands compared to developed agricultural or urban lands; exclusions of tribal and military lands, lands under Habitat Conservation Plans, National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries, as well as state ecological lands and wildlife management areas; clarified and updated biological information; and the exclusion of all lands in Butte, Madera, Merced, Sacramento and Solano counties in California due to the potential economic effect of critical habitat designation in those areas.
In its announcement of the decision, the agency noted that the Secretary of Interior has the discretion under the ESA to "exclude areas from critical habitat if the economic costs outweigh the benefits."
In its final economic analysis, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the listing of the 15 vernal pool species and the critical habitat designation could potentially impose total economic costs for consultation and modifications to projects of $1.3 billion over 20 years.
The Bush administration, which has received widespread criticism from environmentalists for its actions involving endangered species, does not believe that critical habitat designations do much to help endangered species.
Its statement on the vernal pool habitat issued Wednesday says that the "designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits."
Habitat loss is the primary threat to 85 percent of endangered species and conservationists equate removing the critical habitat provision of the ESA is like removing the engine from a car.
The process of designating critical habitat is too time consuming and expensive, Bush administration officials say, because it requires the agency to prepare detailed maps of species habitats, provide time for public comment and complete economic analyses of the critical habitat designation.
"In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat," the administration said in Wednesday's announcement.
Alaska Conservationists Voice Concerns to NortonANCHORAGE, Alaska, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - A gathering of conservationists from around Alaska told Interior Secretary Gale Norton in a brief private meeting in Anchorage Wednesday that Alaskans want the "state's wildest places to stay wild."
In the 30-minute conversation, representatives of 12 Alaska conservation organizations voiced deep concerns about what they believe are the Bush administration's short sighted Alaska policies. The meeting marks the first time that Secretary Norton has met with conservationists in Alaska.
"Alaskans care passionately about protecting the wildest remaining places in our state, but Secretary Norton's Interior department is keeping the public at arm's length, and pursuing out of balance policies," said Randy Virgin, executive director, Alaska Center for the Environment. "When we have voiced our concerns and offered alternatives, we have not seen any evidence that they have been listening.
It is doubtful the criticisms came as any surprise to Norton. The Bush administration's public lands policy, much of which is directed by Norton, has irked conservationists across the nation who believe the administration favors industry and developers over environmental protection.
Norton has often said this is not the case, rather the administration is seeking less confrontational policies that rest largely on public private partnerships - not government regulation.
Alaskan conservationists, however, have been vocal in their disagreement with administration policies ranging from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.
Jack Hession, a senior regional representative for the Sierra Club who attended the meeting with Norton, pointed out that "an awful lot of the proposals the Secretary's department is pushing right now tip the balance too far toward drilling and logging on Alaska's magnificent public lands."
"We asked the secretary to start listening to the people of Alaska and stop letting corporate special interests call all the shots when it comes to Alaska. As conservationists we stand ready to work with her to restore some balance to the administration's approach to Alaskan public lands."
The groups, which represent millions of people across the country and thousands in Alaska, say they are under no illusions that the meeting will do much to change the administration's policy.
"Alaskans feel like the natural and culturally rich state we love is under siege," said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society.
Free Enterprise Group Sues Bush For Global Warming ReportsWASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - The debate over the Bush administration's interpretation and use of documents related to global warming to another turn Wednesday, when a free market advocacy group filed suit in federal court against the administration for not fully disavowing Clinton era global warming reports.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed the suit against the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for refusing to implement the Federal Data Quality Act in regard to two major global warming reports.
The law, signed by President Bill Clinton, requires that data disseminated by the government must meet basic scientific standards for "objectivity" and "utility." CEI says that neither the National Assessment on Climate Change, released in 2000, nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Action Report 2002 meet these standards.
Both documents caution that human activities are contributing to climate change that is likely to result in severe changes in seasonal weather patterns and cause more extreme weather events. Both reports, according to CEI, base their analyses of the potential impacts of climate change on two computer models that are incapable of providing reliable predictions.
"The agencies producing the assessment were informed their models had been proven useless, and in fact they confirmed the test's results themselves, but still proceeded to publish a knowingly fictional document," said Christopher Horner, counsel and senior fellow at CEI.
"This establishes that the data fails to meet not only the 'utility' but also the 'objectivity' standard," Horner said. "These junk science reports are already being used to support otherwise groundless lawsuits filed by global warming alarmists and states seeking to hobble those more competitive."
The filing is the latest salvo in CEI's campaign to discredit the global warming reports - it sued the Clinton White House just prior to the release of the National Assessment in 2000. The Bush administration settled that case, but CEI has renewed its efforts in light of the 2002 EPA report and the rising debate in Washington over the science of climate change.
The Bush administration and some lawmakers in Congress contend that the science is too uncertain for the government to force industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide.
For many there appears overwhelming evidence - from the United Nations, the U.S. government and independent researchers across the globe - that human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels, is impacting the climate.
The Bush administration said in late July that it was launching a new initiative to study climate change, amid criticism that it edited a recent EPA report to remove references to global warming.
Hazardous Waste Buriers Arrested in PennsylvaniaHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher today announced that state enforcement agents have charged several individuals with illegally burying hazardous waste.
Fisher charged a Berks County businessman, his company's general manager and a private contractor with burying nearly 200 fifty-five gallon drums, some of which contained hazardous wastes including lead and silver.
The drums were allegedly buried at the former Reading Industrial Scrap Yard (RISCO) site in Berks County.
The charges allege that the illegal pit, dug on the property, also contained asbestos and other solid wastes.
According to the criminal charges, the defendants between June 2001 and August 2002 knowingly and intentionally buried nearly 200 drums that in some cases contained liquid that tested positive for lead and silver.
Seventy one year old Frederick Snyder, owner of Group Two Properties, purchased the former RISCO site in September 2001. The charges allege that Snyder hired Mount Carbon Industries, owned by Gary Lee Gerber Jr., to haul the hazardous waste and other materials on the property to several legal waste sites, including the BFI Landfill in Morgantown, Pennsylvania.
Government affidavits show that after accepting waste for 12 days in June and July 2001, BFI denied Group Two Properties access to the waste site, claiming that Snyder was behind on his payments to the landfill.
Gerber told state enforcement agents that after his trucks were turned away from the BFI landfill, he was told by both Snyder and Group Two Properties General Manager Dale Smith that it was too expensive to haul the waste to BFI and that he should bury everything on site.
Gerber said he was told by Smith that nothing on the site was hazardous and that he had a state permit to bury the materials as long as they remained on-site.
A tip prompted state officials to investigate and they searched the property between August 21 and 26, 2002.
The search "unearthed nearly 200 large, and in some cases leaking drums," Fisher said. "Tests on some of the materials found inside several drums determined the presence of significant levels of lead and silver, which are two known hazardous materials.
"Creating a potential environmental disaster to save money is not the way we do business in Pennsylvania," Fisher said. "Those who chose that route will be arrested and prosecuted."
Snyder and Group Two Properties were each charged with two felony counts of illegally disposing and storing hazardous waste and three counts of Unlawful Conduct under Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Management Act.
Smith and Gerber were each charged with two felony counts of illegally disposing and storing hazardous waste and two counts of Unlawful Conduct under the Solid Waste Management Act.
The defendants surrendered to Fisher's agents late Tuesday afternoon and were arrested and arraigned before District Justice Dean Patton in Reading. Snyder, Gerber and Smith were each released on $50,000 unsecured bail and a preliminary hearing has been set in the case for August.
Ebola Vaccine Protects MonkeysWASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - U.S. scientists say a single shot of an experimental Ebola vaccine successfully protects monkeys from the deadly virus after only one month.
If this vaccine proves similarly effective in humans, allow scientists to quickly contain Ebola outbreaks with ring vaccination - the same strategy successfully used in the past against smallpox, according to a study published in this week's issue of Nature.
"This research has enormous public health implications not only because it might be used to limit the spread of Ebola virus, which continues to emerge in central Africa, but also because this vaccine strategy may be applied to other highly lethal viruses, such as the Marburg and Lassa fever viruses and the SARS coronavirus, that cause acute disease outbreaks and require a rapid response," said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci.
The finding is the result of collaboration between scientists at the NIAID, the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC) which is part part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).
Ebola virus spreads easily from person to person, causes illness quickly and kills a significant number of the people it infects. There is no treatment for the disease, so preventing the spread of the virus is key to containing outbreaks.
The scientists have been pursuing a two part strategy to combat infectious diseases. First, an injection of non-infectious genetic material from the disease causing microbe primes the immune system to respond. Second, several weeks later, an injection of attenuated carrier viruses containing key genes from the microbe substantially boosts the immune response.
As Ebola acts extremely quickly, the scientists focused in on the second part of the strategy. Eight monkeys were injected with a single boost injection, consisting of attenuated carrier viruses containing genes for important Ebola antigens.
The monkeys were then delivered to USAMRIID where they were injected with an Ebola virus strain obtained from a fatally infected person from the former Zaire in 1995. The single vaccine injection completely protected all eight animals against Ebola infection, even those who received high doses of the virus.
"Ring vaccination might be used to stop the spread of the Ebola virus during acute outbreaks, just as this strategy was used to contain smallpox in the past," said VRC scientist Dr. Gary Nabel.
"With ring vaccination, everyone who has been in contact with a patient, as well as all members of the patient's household, are vaccinated," Dr. Nabel explained. "The ring strategy, which requires a fast acting vaccine, not only protects people who may have been exposed to the virus but also creates an added barrier of immunity around them, thereby protecting the entire community.
New York Eyes Lifts 100 Year Black Currant BanALBANY, New York, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - The black currant has officially earned a second chance in the state of New York. A 100 year old ban on currant farming in the state was unanimously overturned by both houses of the New York state legislature in April and was signed by Governor George Pataki Wednesday.
The news was heralded by New Yorkers keen to grow black currants, which they say are nutritious and delicious.
"This is such exciting news since it is the first time in almost a century that all varieties of currants can be grown in New York State," said Greg Quinn, founder of Au Currant Enterprises, a New York company that has been working to bring the black currant back to the state.
Black currants are packed with vitamins and antioxidant health benefits, said Quinn, whose goal is to encourage farmers and landowners to plant 5,000 acres of currants in New York State within the next decade.
The roots of the berry ban stretch back to 1705 when U.S. white pine seedlings were shipped to England. The seedlings brought a disease - blister root - with them, and plant pathologists mistakenly identified black currants as a link in the disease's spread.
"It was later found that this tree disease jumped from white pine to black currant bush to white pine," explains Steve McKay, black currant expert at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia County. "To protect the timber industry, by 1911, U.S. regulations were passed - and later repealed - which lead to the farming ban of this once popular berry."
The law also made it illegal to import black currant plants without a special exemption and three years in quarantine. Some other states that continue to uphold the ban in varying degrees are Maine, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
In the late 1800s, New York was the nation's top black currant producer, and Quinn said a recent feasibility study of the potential black currant industry predicts black currants becoming a $20 million crop in the state and a $1 billion business nationwide.
"This is the first crop to come along in more than a half century that can provide New York farmers with a viable alternative to many of the crops which are now unprofitable," Quinn said.
Universities Have New Tool to Monitor Hazardous MaterialsDURHAM, New Hampshire, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - The University of New Hampshire (UNH) has developed a new online system that research universities nationwide can use to manage their stores of some of the world's most dangerous substances.
The UNH Chemical Environmental Management System (UNHCEMS) was developed by the UNH Research Computing Center in consultation with the UNH Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
UNHCEMS was developed as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following an agency inspection at the university some five years ago. UNH was found to have violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regarding waste disposal in laboratories.
But something good has come from that, says Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, which initiated the enforcement case against UNH and negotiated the settlement that included the project.
"This online chemical management system holds great potential to help universities and colleges improve tracking and management of chemicals and wastes," Varney said. "We have found in our inspections that many colleges are wasting significant amounts of chemicals because they do not have systems in place for accurately recording the identity, quantity and location of materials."
The Internet based system allows public and private institutions to manage hazardous chemicals stored at multiple locations on their campuses. State and federal guidelines mandate that such institutions meet hazardous materials safety and compliance laws.
Developers of the system say it differs from others because it is designed for educational institutions and is easily accessible via the Web - data and software is securely stored at UNH.
"Most universities do not maintain comprehensive, online inventories of their hazardous materials," said Brad Manning, director of UNH Environmental Health and Safety. "Most universities simply don't have that information available or up to date."
Two universities, Brown University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, are using the system.
"From the standpoint of homeland security and the U.S. Patriot Act, this system dramatically increases the ability of universities to track certain hazardous chemicals," Manning said. "For example, if we need to determine if we have a particular hazard on campus, we can query the system and find out within a minute if that substance is on campus and exactly where it is located."