AmeriScan: February 2, 2005

* * *

800 Scientists Say Drilling Will Harm Arctic Refuge

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - More than 800 U.S. and Canadian scientists from universities and research institutions in every U.S. state and nearly every Canadian province and territory, called on President George W. Bush Tuesday to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling.

In a letter to the President, the scientists questioned assertions that oil could be safely extracted from the Refuge and urged Bush to "support permanent protection of the coastal plain's significant wildlife and wilderness values."

The scientists who signed the letter are experts in the fields of ecology, wildlife and conservation biology, natural resources management and cultural anthropology. They include Dr. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, winner of the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes for his landmark books on social biology.

The scientists said oil development could seriously harm caribou, polar bears, muskoxen and snow geese - among other wildlife. They warned it could disrupt the fragile ecosystem of the coastal plain, which they said could lead to even more widespread injury to wildlife and its habitat.

The signers rejected the idea that the impacts of drilling could be confined to a limited footprint, as pro-drilling forces claim, noting that the effects of oil wells, pipelines, roads, airports, housing facilities, processing plants, gravel mines, air pollution, industrial noise, seismic exploration and exploratory drilling would radiate across the entire coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.

"Please understand that we are not philosophically opposed to oil and gas development in Alaska. Indeed, we all clearly recognize the need for balanced resource management," the scientists wrote.

"However, we also recognize the importance of maintaining the biological diversity and ecosystem integrity of our nation's Arctic. The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is particularly valuable for protecting that biological diversity."

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the United States’ only conservation unit that encompasses an intact arctic ecosystem, is invaluable for scientific research,a' wrote the scientists. "It is also uniquely sensitive to disturbance, making it virtually impossible to mitigate the effects of oil development. Sacrificing this ecosystem for an insignificant supply of our nation’s energy that will not reach the market for a decade does not represent balanced resource management."

"The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 1.5 million acres of key wildlife habitat vital to the integrity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We urge you, Mr. President, to permanently protect the biological diversity and wilderness character of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from future oil and gas development," the letter concludes.

"Hundreds of scientists have told President Bush that throwing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge open to oil companies will harm wildlife and permanently disrupt the wild nature of this unique place," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "It simply does not make sense to destroy the Arctic Refuge for oil that won't make a noticeable dent in our dependency on foreign energy, when it's so much easier to get the same amount of energy through common sense conservation steps."

View a copy of the letter and list of signers here.

* * *

Million Dollar Budget for ANWR Lobby Group Debated

JUNEAU, Alaska, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - A committee of the Alaska State Senate will hold a hearing today on a bill that would grant $1.1 million to Arctic Power to continue its work lobbying in Washington, DC, on behalf of oil exploration and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

To date, the legislature has provided Arctic Power with $8.88 million in funding, in addition to $3.1 million spent by the Alaska Governor’s office on ANWR related lobbying.

Senate Bill 69 provides that Arctic Power will spend $1.1 million between January 1 and June 30, 2005, a measure that will be considered by the state Senate Resources Committee this afternoon.

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center (NAEC), a conservation group, says Alaskans should take a close look at how Arctic Power spends its money.

The state's annual grant to the organization is supposed to fund "educational" efforts to open the Arctic Refuge.

"This appropriation should say lobby efforts, not educational efforts since they are a C (4) not a C (3) organization, the NAEC says.

"Education would imply that an organization would be informing Alaskans and Americans on an impartial basis, with all the known facts. Clearly, Arctic Power is presenting a one-sided picture. Arctic Power is a lobby organization, not an educational organization," said the NAEC.

Arctic Power defines itself as "a grassroots, non-profit citizen's organization with 10,000 members founded in April of 1992 to expedite congressional and presidential approval of oil exploration and production within the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Oil corporations Conoco Philips, BP, and Chevron no longer fund Arctic Power, and they have stated that they are not pushing for development in the refuge.

BP has gone on record stating that it wants to invest $10 billion on the North Slope over the next 10 years on developing and maintaining existing fields near Prudhoe, vs. exploring in frontier areas.

"With the price of oil so high," says NAEC, "it makes it more lucrative for companies to develop adjacent fields to Prudhoe where you have the infrastructure and known reserves."

The Alaska congressional delegation, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, and the 20th Alaska Legislature has endorsed Arctic Power and works closely with the board and staff of the organization. Arctic Power and the state of Alaska work together in their congressional outreach efforts in Washington, DC, and across the nation.

NAEC argues that the state stands to make more money in lease payments and royalities when it leases its own state lands rather than opening a federal wildlife refuge.

"The state will create far more jobs, and get a much bigger economic boom, by pushing to get the gas pipeline through," NAEC points out. "Most Alaskans and Americans are in support of the gas pipeline, whereas the state and the nation are divided over the Arctic Refuge proposal."

* * *

Chesapeake Bay Conservation Grants Available

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - Up to $5 million is on the table for the Chesapeake Bay watershed in fiscal year 2005 Conservation Innovation Grants, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Monday.

"This grant competition provides farmers and ranchers the opportunity to address some of the Chesapeake watershed's most pressing natural resource conservation needs," Johanns said. "Innovative conservation technologies and approaches will help in the restoration, protection and enhancement of the bay area."

The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers more than 64,000 square miles extending over parts of six states - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. It is the largest estuary in the United States and has a rich diversity of productive agriculture operating in close proximity to nearly 17 million residents.

Studies since the 1970s have shown that nutrient over-enrichment, dwindling underwater bay grasses and toxic pollution are contributing to the degradation of Chesapeake Bay habitats. Agriculture has been identified as one of the largest contributors of pollutants in the watershed, degrading habitat both in the bay and in the upstream tributaries.

Restoration, protection, and enhancement of the Chesapeake Bay depends in part on how quickly and effectively new and innovative conservation technologies and approaches can be developed and deployed, the Agriculture Department says.

Projects can work towards restoration of water, soil or air resources, or wildlife habitat. Successful proposals will offer new technologies and/or approaches to the Bay's conservation problems such as pollution of surface water and groundwater with excess nutrients, pesticides, and pathogens.

Grants are available for irrigation management, aquifer recharge, erosion reduction, carbon sequestration and control of agricultural emissions of particulates, odors, volatile organic compounds, and greenhouse gases.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service issued a request for proposals that is on the agency's website and the Federal eGrants website at http://www.grants.gov. Applicants will have 60 days to submit proposals.

Conservation Innovation Grants are available to state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, tribes and individuals, to help develop, test, implement and transfer innovative environmental solutions.

Projects may be from one to three years in length and must address at least one of the Conservation Innovation Grants' natural resource concerns identified annually by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Grants will fund projects targeting innovative on-the-ground conservation, including pilot projects and field demonstrations.

Selected applicants may receive grants up to 50 percent of the total project cost. Applicants must provide nonfederal matching funds for at least 50 percent of the project cost, of which up to 50 percent may be from in-kind contributions.

An exception allows for beginning and limited resource farmers and ranchers, tribes and community-based organizations representing these groups to obtain up to 75 percent of project matching funds from in-kind contributions. The federal contribution may not exceed $1 million for a single project.

This funding is in addition to the $15 million announced on January 11, for the Conservation Innovation Grants nationwide competition for fiscal year 2005.

Applicants may apply for both the nationwide and the Chesapeake Bay watershed grants, but must submit separate applications. Proposals funded by one RFP will not be funded by the other.

Find out more at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/cig/.

* * *

California Recoups $93 Million on Stringfellow Superfund Cleanup

SACRAMENTO, California, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - Lloyd's of London and 15 other defendant insurers have agreed to pay the state of California $93 million to settle insurance claims for cleanup damages at the Stringfellow Hazardous Waste Site, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Tuesday.

The Lloyd's settlement, representing $49 million of the total amount, is "particularly significant because Lloyd's was one of the state's major insurers, and the company's attorneys had been leading the defense against the state's claims," Lockyer said.

"Stringfellow is California's highest priority Superfund Site and we have spent more than 30 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the site," Lockyer said.

Located in the community of Glen Avon in Riverside County, Stringfellow was an industrial waste disposal site that accepted 35 million gallons of bulk liquid hazardous wastes between 1956 and 1972. California purchased numerous insurance policies from the defendants to cover potential liability associated with Stringfellow.

In 1983, the state was sued in federal court by the companies that generated the hazardous substances sent to Stringfellow.

The lawsuit, brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also called the Superfund law, sought to declare the state as de facto owner/operator of Stringfellow and, therefore, responsible for cleaning up the toxic site.

In 1998, California was found liable for Stringfellow based on legal findings that the state negligently investigated, designed and operated the site during the 1950s and 1960s, and then failed to address the pollution during the 1970s.

While the litigation proceeded, the state entered negotiations with several insurers who sold general liability policies to California. In 1993, after many years of failed negotiations with the insurers, the state filed suit against Lloyd's and four other insurers in order to force the companies to honor their policies. In 2001, 30 additional insurers were added to the suit.

Soon after reaching the agreement with Lloyd's, agreements worth $44 million were reached with 15 additional insurers, reducing to 19 the current number of defendant insurers, Lockyer explained.

"The Lloyd's agreement represents a fair resolution of the state's claim against its insurance policy," said Lockyer. "These settlements will help California recoup some of its expenses and allow us to focus our attention on the remaining defendants who are legally obligated to cover the Stringfellow cleanup costs."

The case is scheduled for trial with the remaining non-settling insurance companies in Riverside Superior Court in March.

Since 1975, the state has been engaged in cleanup and other remedial work at Stringfellow. This work includes continued monitoring of Stringfellow to characterize the extent of contamination at the site and in the groundwater plume.

To protect public health and the environment state agencies have constructed a cap, dam, extraction systems, treatment plants, surface water runoff control systems, and pipelines. The state estimates the future cost of operating and maintaining Stringfellow, as well as cleaning up the plume of contaminated groundwater will exceed $300 million.

"California bought insurance to pay for damages such as those posed by the Stringfellow Site. These insurance company defendants should pay those claims," said Penny Newman of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice and a community leader of long standing in the Stringfellow cleanup.

* * *

Coast Guard Deploys New Underwater Security System

ALAMEDA, California, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Coast Guard demonstrates its new underwater port security system at Coast Guard Integrated Support Command San Pedro this morning.

The system, which has been in development and testing since November 2002, is now being deployed to Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security teams throughout the nation.

The underwater security system is designed to protect port infrastructure and strategically important vessels from underwater threats, including swimmers, divers, and explosive devices.

It includes specialized sonar, Coast Guard divers trained in underwater searches and inspections, remotely operated vehicles and a variety of methods of stopping underwater intruders.

"The threats to our ports and waterways come in many forms, and the Coast Guard is making every effort to ensure we address each potential vulnerability to thwart those who wish to damage this vital part of our nation's infrastructure," said Admiral Thomas H. Collins, Commandant of the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard's Research and Development Center in Groton, Connecticut, worked with the U.S. Navy, the University of Texas, the University of Washington, and the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate to evaluate a range of existing technologies and integrate these capabilities into a comprehensive system.

Initial Coast Guard testing and evaluation of the system was conducted in June 2003 at the Naval Underwater Warfare Center Range in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Coast Guard is asking recreational and commercial divers to be aware of established security zones and of restricted areas when planning their dives.

Anyone planning to dive near a restricted area should contact the nearest Coast Guard command before beginning the dive. The Coast Guard will be using underwater loudspeakers to communicate to divers detected in protected areas as part of its underwater port security system, and divers should immediately follow any instructions.

The Coast Guard is asking anyone who sees "suspicious activity along the nation's waterways" to report it immediately to local law enforcement or the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 or 1-877-24WATCH.

* * *

Fishery Council Drops Scallop Rule for Safety's Sake

NEWBURYPORT, Massachusetts, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - New England fisheries regulators voted unanimously Tuesday to discard a rule that reduces the catch of scallops on trips cut short by bad weather.

The decision was prompted by the sinking of the scallop vessel Northern Edge in December, an incident that claimed the lives of five of the six Massachusetts fishermen aboard.

Fishermen have criticized scallop rules that cut fishing days and penalize fishermen who leave fishing grounds early, saying that vessel operators respond to the rule by staying out at sea in unsafe conditions.

The New England Fishery Management Council's decision to drop the rule, made on the first day of its three day meeting, must still go through a public comment period before it is officially adopted by the regulators, but the council said that the change would be retroactive, virtually ensuring that it is a done deal.

Council Chairman Frank Blount pledged to place a high priority on scrutinizing all rules that may have the unintended consequence of creating safety problems for fishing vessels.

“While the immediate focus is on the scallop regulations, there is a need to re-assess all of the Council’s fishery management plans to ensure that we are risk-averse in matters of personal health and safety at sea,” he said.

The Council closed certain areas to scallop fishing in 1994 to protect overfished groundfish stocks, including the area in which the accident occurred about 45 miles southeast of Nantucket.

Since 1999, a special access program with limits on catch and season has allowed boats to take advantage of the abundant scallop resource in the areas without jeopardizing groundfish conservation, the Council said.

* * *

NASA Joins National Invasive Species Council

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has become the 13th Cabinet agency to join the National Invasive Species Council.

NASA says its current work on maintaining the biological integrity of Earth and other solar system bodies along with work with remote sensing activities of Earth's biotic and abiotic environment from space will make it an invaluable addition to the council.

"Invasive species are one of the greatest threats to our environment and wildlife," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "NASA brings enormous technical expertise and experience to the partnership of federal agencies combating both the introduction and the spread of invasives. With NASA on board, the council will be able to attack this ecological crisis with new technologies and tools."

Invasive species can be aquatic or terrestrial plants, insects, animals, pathogens or parasites. Most non-native species are not invasive. Non-native species are important sources of food, fiber and recreation. Only a small fraction of non-native species that are introduced to a new environment become established and less than 10 percent of those species are considered invasive.

Lori Williams, executive director of the National Invasive Species Council, said, "NASA will add a unique voice to the Council and help further the development of a broad, comprehensive approach to invasive species issues which often present a complex array of agricultural, environmental, health and economic issues across geographical and jurisdictional lines."

NASA has agreed to make its satellite observations of the Earth, computer modeling and engineering experience available to NISC, to improve the ability to help control and destroy invasive species that are harming the environment in the United States.

"They bring a great deal of technological experience and some outstanding tools to help further work on mapping and monitoring invasive species," said Williams.

The National Invasive Species Council is a cabinet level council that was established by Executive Order of President Bill Clinton in 1999 to provide leadership and to ensure complementary, cost-efficient and effective federal activities regarding invasive species.

Council members, in addition to NASA, include three co-chairs: the secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and the secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury, Transportation, Health and Human Services, as well as the administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S Trade Representative.

More information on NISC is online at: www.invasivespecies.gov http://www.invasivespecies.gov.

* * *

Lawsuit Wins Endangered Status for Rare Nebraska Beetle

GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska, February 2, 2005 (ENS) - In response to the outcome of a conservationist lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the Salt Creek tiger beetle as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The only three known poplations of this species in the world occur in saline wetlands in eastern Nebraska.

Numbering fewer than 600 individuals, the beetles are considered the rarest insects in Nebraska and are already protected under Nebraska State law.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and several other plaintiffs, the Service agreed on October 7, 2002 to submit a final listing determination for the beetle to the Federal Register by September 30, 2005.

If the beetle is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Service will work cooperatively with partners to conserve their habitat, said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is considered a bio-indicator species. Its presence signals the existence of a healthy saline wetland, and it serves as an important link in a complex food chain of the saline wetland ecosystem. A healthy saline wetland provides numerous benefits for people, including water purification and flood control.

This is a is a metallic brown to dark olive green beetle with a metallic dark green underside. It measures about 0.5-inch in total length, and is native to eastern Nebraska's saline wetlands and the associated streams in the northern third of Lancaster and south-central edge of Saunders counties. It occurs in exposed mud flats of saline wetlands and along mud banks of streams and seeps.

Surveys from 1991 to 2004 show that the number of remaining Salt Creek tiger beetle populations has fallen by half - from six to three populations - since 1991. The 2004 surveys found fewer than 600 beetles.

Extensive wetland losses have occurred in and around the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, due to urban expansion, agricultural activities, and channelization of Salt Creek, the Service said. As a result, a large percentage of the Salt Creek tiger beetle's habitat has been lost.

Most of the remaining saline wetlands are degraded. Only 122 acres of the barren salt flat and saline stream edge habitat of the Salt Creek tiger beetle remain in the eastern Nebraska Saline Wetland Complex, of which merely 15 acres can be considered not highly degraded. The Service says these remaining 15 acres are believed to provide suitable habitat for the three remaining populations of Salt Creek tiger beetles.

Another threat is increased freshwater runoff and sediment from urban areas which lowers the salt content in the water and encourages vegetative encroachment.

Habitats now occupied by the beetle are small and in close proximity to each other, making it difficult to re-colonize areas that were previously occupied. The beetle is also more prone to extinction from catastrophic environmental events such as floods and drought, predation and parasites.

The Service requests that the public forward any additional comments or data about the species to the Nebraska Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 203 West Second Street, Federal Building, Second Floor, Grand Island, Nebraska 68801. Email address is fw6_sctbeetle@fws.gov. Comments and data will be accepted for 60 days after the February 1, 2005, publication in the Federal Register.