AmeriScan: August 4, 2004

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Unsafe Mercury Levels Rising in U.S. Fish

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - Mercury pollution is pervasive in U.S. lakes, environmentalists say in a report that blasts the Bush administration's proposal for cutting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. In the report released Tuesday, environmental groups said recent tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of fish caught in U.S. lakes found every sample had at least low levels of mercury.

From 1999-2001, EPA collected two composite samples of one predator fish species and one bottom dwelling fish species at 260 lakes, for a total of 520 composite samples, or 2,547 fish.

Some 55 percent of samples contained mercury levels that exceed the EPA's safe limit for women of childbearing age, and 76 percent exceeded the safe limit for children under age three, according to the report by Clear the Air, a joint campaign of the Clean Air Task Force, National Environmental Trust, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

The report is based on the first available data from the EPA's ongoing National Study of Chemical Residues in Lake Fish Tissue.

Exposure to mercury, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent harm to the brain in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife.

Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk. EPA scientists estimate at least one in eight American women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of mercury levels in her blood.

Last year, 44 states issued warnings about eating mercury contaminated fish - a 63 percent jump from 1993.

The findings "underscore the need to reduce mercury emissions from power plants as much and as quickly as possible," said Emily Figdor, author of the report and policy analyst for Clear the Air. "Delaying action for at least 10 years will unnecessarily expose an entire generation of children to toxic mercury pollution."

Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants are currently unregulated - these facilities emit some 48 tons of mercury each year, accounting for about 40 percent of the nation's mercury pollution.

The Bush administration has proposed using a cap for mercury emissions and a trading program in emissions credits to achieve a total of 15 tons of mercury emissions by 2018 - a 70 percent reduction.

Ten state attorneys general and 48 U.S. Senators, along with a wide range of scientists, environmental and public health organizations opposed the proposal, which they believe is too lax.

Under pressure from critics, the Bush administration in April delayed the finalization of its mercury rule by four months until March 2005.

Administration officials and industry groups say technologies to cut emissions more quickly are too expensive and they dispute the idea that power plants are responsible for mercury found in fish.

Mercury is also a naturally occurring metal. Industrial emissions of mercury add to the existing pool, which is continuously mobilized, deposited on land and water, and remobilized.

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Park Haze Settlement Finalized

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an industry challenge to a court settlement that requires the federal government to reduce air pollution affecting many national parks and wilderness areas.

The settlement requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt rules by early 2005 that require the installation of best available control technology (BART) on older facilities emitting pollution that obscures scenic vistas in places such as Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Big Bend, Acadia, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks.

Haze pollution reduces natural visibility distances by as much as 76 miles in the eastern United States and 107 miles in the West.

Scientists have shown that haze in the parks is the result of combined pollution from many industrial sources often hundreds of miles away.

The EPA initially proposed BART guidelines in July 2001 but did not finalize that proposal. A previous EPA attempt to adopt such limits was overturned by a federal appeals court in 2002 as a result of an industry challenge.

But that appellate court did not question the EPA's duty to adopt the pollution limits, and last August the advocacy organization Environmental Defense sued the agency to force it to develop new rules. The EPA agreed to settle the suit.

The settlement called on the EPA to propose new rules by April 2004 and finalize the regulations by April 2005.

In October 2003, the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), which represents the coal industry, filed a motion to intervene in the settlement and delay the regulation.

In a 22 page ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Richard Urbina denied CEED's request.

"The court understands the theoretical possibility that EPA will rush through its work and somehow come up with a rule that harms CEED," Judge Urbina wrote. "But at this point such a possibility is pure speculation."

The judge granted motions by Environmental Defense and the EPA to enter a consent decree formalizing the settlement.

The agency proposed its BART regulation in April. The plan gives states the lead in reducing park haze pollution.

Environmentalists are concerned the proposal gives states too much freedom to exempt sources and too long to comply with plans to cut emissions.

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Petition Seeks End of Alaska Aerial Wolf Hunt

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife filed an administrative petition on Tuesday asking Interior Secretary Gale Norton to stop the state's practice of using airplanes to chase down and kill wolves.

Alaska's airborne wolf killing program currently allows hunters to slaughter wolves and wolf pups from the air by either shooting from above, or by chasing them into deep snow until they are trapped and too exhausted to move.

Alaska is home to the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the United States - scientists estimate some 7,000 to 9,000 wolves roam the state.

But unlike wolves in the lower 48 states, wolves in Alaska are not afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act, and wolf hunting is allowed in 95 percent of the state.

Alaskan state officials contend the aerial hunting program is needed to boost moose populations for hunters.

Defenders of Wildlife say that reasoning violates the Federal Airborne Hunting Act, which prohibits the killing of predators to increase big game targets for sport hunting.

The law holds that killing predators to increase game populations is illegal - it was enacted in 1971 to curtail the airborne hunting of wolves in Alaska.

In March Norton refused to issue clarifying regulations to block Alaska's aerial wolf hunt and insisted that the program was permitted by the Federal Airborne Hunting Act.

The act provides a limited exception for persons operating under the authority of a state "to administer or protect or aid in the administration or protection of land, water, wildlife, livestock, domesticated animals, human life or crops."

This latest petition calls on Norton to clarify and reconsider her March decision.

"Alaska's bullheaded insistence on wildlife mismanagement is not only illegal, but ignores not one but two statewide referenda banning airborne hunting," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. "We know it is a novel idea for this administration, but we want Secretary Norton to do a simple thing - enforce the law."

Last year Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski and the state legislature overturned a statewide ban on airborne killing that was passed twice - in 1996 and 2000 - by Alaska voters.

Since then some 150 wolves have been killed.

"The numbers of wolves slaughtered from aircraft will only increase unless this gross mismanagement of the state's wildlife resources is kept in check by the Federal Airborne Hunting Act," said Karen Deatherage, Alaska Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife.

"Already the Alaska Board of Game has tripled the area covered by the aerial killing program in 2005 to a total of 30,000 square miles of land," she said. "If not reversed, this decision is a death sentence for nearly 2,500 wolves over the next five years."

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California Dairies Cited for Air Pollution

LOS ANGELES, California, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - Five dairies in California's Chino Basin were held in contempt of court last week for failing to implement a pilot project to reduce noxious air pollution from cow manure.

Federal district court Judge Virginia Phillips held the five dairies in contempt because they failed to implement a pilot project to cover their wastewater lagoons and to measure the effect on air quality.

The pilot project was part of November 2002 consent decrees the dairies filed to settle charges by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Defend the Bay that manure laden water discharges from the dairies violate federal environmental laws.

Dairies in Chino and across the nation commonly use open lagoons, which can emit numerous air pollutants, including carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Studies suggest that pollutants emitted from large dairies can cause headaches, respiratory problems, and mood alterations, and contribute to poor air quality throughout the Chino Basin. Chino is located in San Bernardino County - a part of the South Coast Air Basin that has the worst air quality in the nation.

Under the contempt order, the dairies will be fined $500 per day, beginning August 13, for each day they fail to submit to the court ordered detailed plans and schedules for implementing the pilot project. The fines double every two weeks.

The dairies include Desperado Dairy, Ben Vander Laan Dairy, L&M Dairy, Gorzeman Family Dairy, and Gorzeman Dairy No. 2.

"A federal court ordered these dairies to work on ways to stop stinking up Southern California," said attorney David Beckman, who directs NRDC's Coastal Water Project based in Los Angeles. "Until now, the dairies have reneged on their promises to us and ignored the order of the court, but fines totaling $17,500 per week should get their attention."

Two of the dairies - Desperado Diary and Ben Vander Laan Dairy - have also been found in contempt for failing to develop an Environmental Management Plan to safely handle in an environmentally sound manner all the manure-laden waste water and storm water runoff generated by their dairies.

"With all five dairies now in contempt and two in contempt twice over, maybe dairy operators throughout the Chino Basin and California will pay more attention to their obligations under federal and state environmental laws to protect public health and our precious natural resources," said Defend the Bay founding director Robert Caustin, whose organization works to protect Newport Bay and Orange County coastal waters.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is considering new rules to reduce air pollution from Southern California dairies.

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Coffee Farm Enriched by Forest Ecosystem Services

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - The pollination "services" of the surrounding tropical forest contributed seven percent of the annual income of one Costa Rican coffee farm, according to a new study appearing Monday in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

The study is the first to quantify in such detail the economic value of pollination services from tropical forests.

It shows that there are "compelling economic reasons for conserving native ecosystems," said Taylor Ricketts, principle author of the study and director of WWF's Conservation Science Program.

"Because the benefits we derive from ecosystems are difficult to quantify, they are often assumed to be worthless," Ricketts said. "Yet, we found that without this forest, the coffee plantation would lose about $60,000 in income from the diminished pollination alone."

The research team investigated pollination on coffee plants at three distances from the forest - near (330 feet), intermediate (one half mile), and far (just under a mile).

The researchers found the areas of the coffee farm closest to the forest experienced more pollination by wild bees.

The increased pollination boosted coffee yields and decreased the number of deformed beans, compared to the plants farthest from the forest.

"Our numbers are very conservative because we just looked at one ecosystem service - pollination - on one farm," said Paul Ehrlich, a co-author and professor of population studies at Stanford University. "If we quantified other ecosystem services like water purification, and the value of pollination to other neighboring farms, the value of this forest would be even greater."

The study suggests the value of tropical forest is greater than other land uses for which forests are often destroyed.

Cattle pasture, for example, would yield approximately $24,000 a year, less than half of what pollination services provides to the coffee plantation.

"The fact that pollination services alone are so valuable to an individual farm demonstrates how conservation is compatible with economic development," Ricketts said. "Protecting natural ecosystems can benefit both biodiversity and local people."

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Experiment at O.K. Corral

TOMBSTONE, Arizona, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - In 1881, Tombstone, Arizona was etched into American history as the dusty, hot site of Wyatt Earp's famous shootout at the O.K. Corral.

This month, it will be the site where scientists from NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other institutions will gather and study soil moisture to improve weather forecasts and the ability to interpret satellite data.

The study, called the Soil Moisture Experiment 2004, will use ground teams, airplanes and NASA satellites and instruments to measure soil moisture in Tombstone and Sonora, Mexico, arid regions where water supplies are critical.

By identifying how much moisture is retained in soils, hydrologists will be able to determine how much more water can be absorbed, and thus better estimate the potential for flooding, or the amount of water that can sink into the water table.

During July and August, the U.S. Southwestern monsoon season is characterized by a wind pattern shift that exerts a strong influence on precipitation and temperatures across the Western United States, Mexico and adjacent ocean areas.

This change in winds over the region creates many rainy days and heavy rainfall, which are ideal conditions for studying soil moisture.

The Soil Moisture Experiment 2004 scientists also want to know what atmospheric conditions create long lasting rainfalls over a large area.

By determining which factors create large or small rainfall, hydrologists can provide better forecasts and know how much water will be available to people.

"Accurate measurements of soil moisture will assist in better water supply forecasts associated with the monsoon in the water scarce western United States," said Tom Jackson, USDA Agricultural Research Service hydrologist and lead for the Soil Moisture Experiment 2004.

The Soil Moisture Experiment 2004 mission adds to two prior soil moisture experiments in 2002 and 2003, and is part of the larger North American Monsoon Experiment, which is dedicated to understanding how the Southwestern U.S. monsoon season works.

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Cable Billionaire Funds New Ocean Research Initiative

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pennsylvania, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - The Lenfest Foundation, Inc. announced Tuesday the establishment of the Lenfest Ocean Program, a six year, $20 million applied research initiative, to further understanding of the problems affecting the world's oceans and to promote the sustainable management of ocean resources.

"The conservation of ocean habitat is a vital part of the public trust, yet we know relatively little about life in the sea," said Gerry Lenfest, who chairs the Lenfest Foundation. "If we are to meet its responsibility as stewards of the oceans, we must increase our understanding of the problems affecting the world's marine environment, and move more aggressively to identify and implement solutions before it is too late. That is the goal of the Lenfest Ocean Program."

Established in 2000 by cable television billionaire H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest and his wife Marguerite, the Foundation is dedicated to supporting programs in the areas of education, arts and the environment.

The announcement of the new initiative comes at a time when scientists, fishermen, and policymakers are calling for increased support of ocean research.

The Congressionally mandated U.S. Oceans Commission will soon deliver its final report on U.S. ocean policy. The commission's draft study says U.S. ocean waters, coasts, and marine resources are in crisis from overfishing, pollution and coastal development, despite the government's patchwork of laws and bureaucracies.

The commission lays out some 200 recommendations for how the U.S. government should revamp and strengthen its commitment and framework for managing the oceans, including the need for a major research effort.

The federal budget for ocean research is only $755 million - less than four percent of nation's annual expenditure for basic scientific research.

Similar recommendations were laid out in a report released last year by the Pew Oceans Commission, an 18 member panel drawn from fields of marine science, commercial and recreational fishing, private industry, conservation, government and economics.

"Two national commissions and several groundbreaking scientific studies have given us the clearest picture yet of what pollution, development, over fishing, and mismanagement are doing to the oceans," said Margaret Bowman, director of the Lenfest Ocean Program, which has been established at The Pew Charitable Trusts. "The Lenfest Ocean Program will help to shed further light on some of the most critical marine issues facing policymakers in the upcoming years."

The Lenfest Program will produce and communicate a body of scientific, economic and technical information and recommendations that are geared toward informing and promoting the sustainable management of ocean resources.

It will focus on the ecosystem impacts of fishing, the socioeconomic impacts of current and proposed fishing regimes, and the ecosystem based management of marine systems.

The move reflects an increasing interest by the Lenfest Foundation in environmental issues. In 2004 the Foundation has also supported the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's conservation of ocean and wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay, and the Earth Institute of Columbia University in its involvement in helping to achieve sustainable economies in rural sections of Africa and to develop practical solutions to reduce global warming.

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Green Weapon Slays Termites

MADISON, Wisconsin, August 4, 2004 (ENS) - A U.S. Forest Service researcher looking for ways to prevent fungi from causing wood to decay may have discovered an important new tool in the battle against termites.

Microbiologist Frederick Green III discovered that a commercially available naphtha based compound called N-hydroxynaphthyalimide (NHA) worked well to prevent decay causing fungi from damaging wood and was effective at killing common Eastern subterranean termites.

Green reported his findings to two termite experts, entomologists M. Guadalupe Rojas and Juan Morales-Ramos, at the USDA's Agricultural Research Station in New Orleans.

Termites cause an estimated $2 billion in damage annually in the United States and are a major problem in the warm and humid Southeast, where Formosan subterranean termites (FSTs) have proven to be especially destructive and difficult to eradicate.

This type of termite is an invasive species that arrived in the U.S. about 50 years ago and are responsible for an estimated $1 billion in damage annually to buildings and living trees.

FSTs are large and reproduce prolifically, establishing colonies that number 10 million or more termites -- compared to only 300,000 individuals in a typical colony of native Eastern subterranean termites.

Termites sometimes travel as far as 100 yards from their nests in search of food and can eat through plastic pipe and thin metal.

They also have demonstrated an ability to survive standard termidicide treatments, in part by avoiding traditional termite baits, and in some areas had displaced the less-destructive native Eastern termites.

In areas infested with FSTs, homeowners and others often have to resort to expensive physical barriers to prevent FSTs from damaging property.

Both Rojas and Morales-Ramos were members of a multi-agency task force created by the Agriculture Department to find a solution to the FST problem.

Rojas and Morales-Ramos developed a cellulose attractant to combine with the NHA. It proved so appealing to the termites that even the Formosan subterranean termites would carry the bait containing NHA back to their nests.

In field tests in Louisiana and Mississippi, entire colonies of Formosan subterranean termites were eliminated in a matter of months, depending on the size of the colony.

Because the NHA termite bait is effective at low doses and, unlike most termidicides, contains no heavy metals, it is considered environmentally friendly and cost effective.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent for the compound, with Rojas, Morales-Ramos and Green are all listed as the inventors, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded an exclusive license for developing, manufacturing and marketing products based on the technology.

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