AmeriScan: February 8, 2005

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Toxic Gas Leaks at Georgia Nuclear Plant

BAXLEY, Georgia, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - An emergency was declared at nine o'clock last night at the Hatch nuclear power plant due to a leak of toxic freon gas in the Drywell Chiller Room located in the Unit 2 Reactor Building.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports that maintenance was being performed on the refrigeration equipment relief valve when freon gas began to escape into the room.

There were six men working in the room and two were affected by the freon gas. They were treated at the site and released.

Oxygen content in the room was 20.5 percent and the lower explosive limit for hydrocarbons was what the NRC called "alarming" at 19 percent.

At this time, the drywell chiller room is secured and is being cleared of the 1,200 pounds of freon gas that had escaped.

The plant, 11 miles from Baxley, Georgia, is licensed to the Southern Nuclear Operating Co. An investigation is being done to determine the cause of this incident, which the NRC says may have been due to the relief valve opening or the workers removing the valve.

The Notification of Unusual Event will be terminated when the room is habitable, the NRC said.

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Trophy Hunts Target Antelope Bred Back From Extinction

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - Three species of rare antelopes would become the targets of canned trophy hunts if they are listed as endangered in the United States. The scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the dama gazelle have been bred in captivity on ranches in Texas and Ohio, and now the Service says the costs of such breeding such be offset by sales of permits for sport hunting of the "surplus" animals.

In a proposal published in the February 1 issue of the Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that these three species were rescued from near extinction and the founder stock necessary for reintroduction has been provided by U.S. captive breeding facilities.

In Texas, the ranched scimitar-horned oryx population went from 32 animals in 1979 to 2,145 in 1996. Addax increased from two animals in 1971 to 1,824 in 1996; and dama gazelle increased from nine animals in 1979 to 369 in 2003. These population increases were due mostly to captive breeding at the ranches supplemented with some imported captive-bred animals.

"Sport hunting of surplus captive-bred animals generates revenue that supports these captive breeding operations and relieves hunting pressure on wild populations," wrote Robert Gabel, chief of the Division of Scientific Authority at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the Federal Register Notice.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the United States Monday criticized the proposal that would permit trophy hunting of the three antelope species.

The proposal would apply if, as expected, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the species as "endangered," a designation that ordinarily prohibits killing any wild or captive animal protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

A similar proposal to relax Endangered Species Act protections for more than 500 foreign endangered species was shelved last year in the face of public opposition and criticism from scientists and legislators.

Decades of overhunting and habitat loss have driven the three antelope species to the very verge of extinction. The scimitar-horned oryx is already extinct in the wild and subject to an ongoing conservation breeding program in global zoos.

The addax is considered by biologists to be critically endangered, with most wild populations already gone.

The dama gazelle has a wild population of fewer than 700 animals. Yet big game hunters have successfully kept the three species off the official list of endangered species for more than 10 years, the conservation groups say. The Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed listing the species in 1991.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is labeling this a conservation proposal, but it's quite the opposite," says Patricia Forkan, senior vice president for international programs with The HSUS, and head of its international division, Humane Society International (HSI).

"It's nothing more than a canned hunt exemption to the Endangered Species Act so that American trophy hunters can bag more of these prized animals for their den-room displays," Forkan said.

"Captive breeding programs for these species have been in place for four decades now, and U.S. game ranches have contributed very little to them. The suggestion that these ranches are promoting conservation is laughable," said Carroll Muffett, senior director for international conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

The Service says, "Sport hunting of U.S. captive-bred specimens may reduce the threat of extinction of wild populations by providing an alternative to legal and illegal hunting of wild specimens in range countries."

"If the administration were truly committed to the survival of these species, it would finalize the endangered species listings that have languished for more than a dozen years, and provide real support for on-the-ground conservation in the range countries," Muffett said. "Instead, they've reverted to their tired and discredited philosophy that killing an endangered species is the best way to save it."

Public comments on this proposal are welcome through April 4, 2005. Submit comments and information by mail to the Chief, Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, VA 22203; or by fax to 703-358-2276; or by e-mail to ScientificAuthority@fws.gov.

Read the proposal in the Federal Register at: http://policy.fws.gov/library/05-1698.html

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First Cruelty Free Insulin Test Commercially Available

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has developed the world's first cruelty-free insulin assay, a test used to measure insulin levels in individuals with diabetes.

The assay, which uses no animals, was developed as part of PCRM's ongoing clinical trials to test the effects of a low-fat, vegan diet on patients with type 2 diabetes.

PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. said, "We only had two options available to us when we began our diabetes trials. One, we could use test kits with insulin antibodies grown in vivo - literally from cells injected into the abdomens of live mice - or we could use kits containing antibodies produced from cells cultured with fetal calf serum. Neither was acceptable to us."

The physicians group developed a test-tube procedure using a synthetic replacement for the fetal calf serum that is used as a culturing medium in millions of medical tests every year.

After months of detective work, PCRM research analyst Megha Even, working with Emoryville, California lab BiosPacific, succeeded in culturing cells using a medium free of animal components, peptides and proteins.

This synthetic formula contains cofactors and trace elements that promote cell growth. Then, in collaboration with Linco Research of St. Charles, Missouri, Even incorporated antibodies grown in the medium into a test kit for human insulin.

A report on the new methodology will be published soon in a peer-reviewed journal in conjunction with Linco.

Even will present her findings at the "Experimental Biology 2005" scientific conference in San Diego, California April 2-6. The new assay kits are available commercially from Linco.

"We hope that by making the test readily available and competitively priced, researchers and medical labs will use it," said Barnard. "We have proven that if researchers are willing to make the effort, there are effective, humane alternatives to animal-based assays and other testing procedures - alternatives that could help save the lives of millions of people and animals."

There are an estimated 194 million people worldwide with diabetes. More than 15 million Americans suffer from the disease and resulting complications.

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Felling Eagle's Nest Tree Costs Two Men $100,000

TAMPA, Florida, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge in Tampa has ordered an Indiana man to pay a total of $90,000 and serve a year of probation for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Mylon Stockton of Noblesville, Indiana was penalized for cutting down a tree containing an eagle's nest on a property in Venice, Florida.

The property owner, co-defendant, Mark Borinsky North Port, Florida, was fined $10,000 after pleading guilty to a similar offense.

According to public real estate records, Borinsky purchased a piece of property in Venice, Florida in November 2002 for about $59,000.

According to the criminal information filed in the case, Borinsky and Stockton went onto Borinsky's Venice property on November 27, 2002. According to the charges, Borinsky attempted to cut down a pine tree containing an eagle nest which was visible from beneath the tree.

Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act the presence of an eagle nest may result in restrictions on the use of, or removal of trees from, the vicinity of the nest.

The tree began to fall but toppled on another tree. It stayed standing at an angle with Borinsky's chainsaw stuck in the trunk. A neighbor told the two men the tree contained an eagle's nest and that it was illegal to cut the tree down.

Stockton ignored the neighbor and used his car jack to lift the tree trunk and free his chainsaw This caused the nest tree to dislodge from the other tree and fall to the ground.

Stockton and Borinsky then cut several additional trees down on top of the nest tree, which destroyed it.

The prosecutor told U.S. District Judge James Whittemore during the sentencing hearing on January 31 that most of the funds Stockton was ordered to pay represent the profit realized when the property, by then without the eagle nest, was resold for about $150,000 in April 2004.

Stockton was sentenced to the same $10,000 fine as Borinsky but was also sentenced to community service consisting of a $40,000 donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Florida Bald Eagle Conservation Fund and a $40,000 donation to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.

A single violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is one year imprisonment and a fine of either $100,000, or twice the financial gain or loss caused by the offense.

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Oil and Gas Trump Western Wilderness in BLM Plans

WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management has released plans that open more than eight million acres of New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah to oil and gas development in sensitive areas that environmentalists and some state officials say are irreplaceable. A new analysis by The Wilderness Society shows that the new draft and final plans open nearly 8.3 million of the 8.6 million acres - 96.8 percent - of the lands covered by the plans.

At the same time, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) data shows that while drilling permit approvals on Western public lands increased by 62 percent in 2004, the number of new wells drilled declined by nearly 10 percent.

"The oil and gas industry clearly has a large backlog of drilling permits and plenty of access to our public lands, despite their complaints to the contrary," said said Dave Alberswerth of The Wilderness Society. "Why, then," he asked, "is BLM issuing plans that seem to bend over backward for the oil and gas industry, while putting all other values at risk?"

The analysis covers the first post-election wave of an expected 80 plans that the BLM will be revising for public lands across the West over the next few years.

"Now that the election’s over, the Interior Department is rolling out plans that largely ignore public input and reflect a tremendously unbalanced approach to how our public lands will be used," said The Wilderness Society’s Nada Culver, who analyzed the plans.

"Because many land-use plans throughout the West were outdated, the previous administration asked Congress to fund new plans, with the mandate that the plans would balance protection of natural resources with some oil and gas and mineral development," said Alberswerth. "But the Interior Department has chosen to ignore public input, new information and technological improvements and is instead using these new plans to open nearly every acre to oil and gas development."

The analysis covers the final Record of Decision for New Mexico’s Greater Otero Mesa area, which contains two million acres of desert grassland - the largest in the United States - is inhabited by pronghorn antelope, and sits atop a groundwater reserve that could provide water for about half the population of New Mexico.

Despite formal protests by Governor Bill Richardson and three state agencies, and strong citizen opposition, the January 24 Record of Decision opened 95 percent of Otero Mesa to oil and gas development. In 2004, Richardson condemned the BLM’s plans and signed an executive order directing all state government departments to use their authority to protect Otero Mesa.

The draft land use plan for Wyoming’s Great Divide, which the BLM calls the "Rawlins" area includes the eastern half of the Red Desert, Wyoming’s largest desert wilderness, and Adobe Town, a 181,000 acre proposed wilderness and is inhabited antelope, wild horses, deer and raptors. Of the total planning area of 4,587,900 acres, the December 17, 2004 plan opens 4,510,950 acres or 98 percent to oil and gas development.

BLM records show that more than 15,000,000 acres of BLM Wyoming lands are already under lease for oil and gas development.

The third analysis covers the January 14 draft land use plan for Utah’s 1.9 million acre Vernal Field Office, which includes Nine Mile Canyon – a gallery of prehistoric ruins and Native American art - and such wilderness quality lands as the Book Cliffs. Although acknowledging the presence of 275,000 acres of wilderness quality lands, the plan opens 1,850,162 acres million acres - 97 percent - to oil and gas development.

The Wilderness Society analysis faults each of the three BLM plans because they do not specifically require "best management practices" for oil and gas development, such as clustering multiple wells from a single pad or centralizing production facilities.

The BLM was wrong in not acknowledging new "areas of critical environmental concern," and instead demoting several such areas from protection.

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EPA Funds Pacific Islands Scrap Metal Recycling Survey

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $30,000 to the Electicore Consortium to organize a scrap material recycling program in the Pacific called the Green Island Alliance.

The Green Island Alliance program will investigate scrap material collection activities on Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) and Palau including volumes of collected and uncollected scrap materials, material types, shipping requirements, legal and regulatory framework, and groups involved in the scrap material collection activities.

Based on the findings, the alliance will identify a suitable process and vessel for the transport of scrap material off the islands for recycling.

The project will start by looking at scrap metal and aluminum cans and then move on to glass, plastic and other types of solid waste.

This project has support from the EPA Pacific Southwest Region's Pacific Islands Office, the Guam EPA, and several nongovernmental organizations on the islands.

"It's important that Guam, CNMI and Palau take every opportunity to recycle to save precious landfill space and protect the environment," said Eileen Sheehan, manager for the EPA Pacific Southwest Region's Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste Office. "Consolidating the scrap material from various islands will make recycling economically feasible, create jobs, and facilitate the sustainability of a regional recycling program."

On January 1, a new law took effect on Guam that requires advance disposal fees on automobiles, trucks, heavy equipment, automotive batteries, tires, and white goods.

The law requires consumers to pay deposits ranging from US$3 for a tire up to two hundred dollars US$200 for a car or truck. The funds will be used to properly dispose of the items, including the abandoned vehicles, refrigerators, and tires that dot Guam's landscape.

Pacific islands are overloaded with metal scrap from old vehicles.

Of the Pacific island states, only Guam, Palau and the CNMI have an integrated solid waste management plan. Based on the preliminary market analysis provided by the Green Island Alliance, about 75,000 metric tons of scrap metal exist on Saipan, Guam and Palau.

An estimated 35,000 metric tons of scrap metal can be taken off Federated States of Micronesia and another 35,000 metric tons are scattered across the Marshall Islands.

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Nebraska Governor Recycles Predecessor's Letterhead

CHARLESTOWN, New Hampshire, February 8, 2005 (ENS) - The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has handed its "Call of Conservation" Award toNebraska Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, who announced last week that he will use his predecessor’s remaining letterhead to avoid wasting thousands of sheets of paper.

Governor Heineman succeeded Mike Johanns after the Johanns was appointed U.S. Agriculture Secretary. The incoming governor says he will print his name on the bottom of the former governor’s stationery until the old paper supply is exhausted. Heineman hopes his actions will send a signal throughout state government.

"Ordinarily, SCA is committed to advancing the call of conservation," says SCA Vice President Kevin Hamilton. "But today we’re content that conservation is stationery."

"Governor Heineman’s letterhead policy sends a letter perfect message," says SCA’s Hamilton, "and SCA applauds his campaign to conserve our limited resources and promote sound stewardship."

The SCA "Call of Conservation" certificate is printed on the reverse side of a previously used sheet of recycled paper. Hamilton hopes the framed award will be displayed in a state office building as a reminder to recycle even after the governor’s new letterhead arrives. "Over a busy copy machine would be nice," he suggests.

The Student Conservation Association, with national headquarters in Charlestown, NH, engages 15 to 25 year-old volunteers in conservation projects in national parks, forests and other public lands.

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USDA Forced to Reveal Hawaii Biopharm Crop Locations

HONOLULU, Hawaii, Feburary 8, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture was forced by court order on Friday to reveal the locations of test sites of biopharmaceutical crops in Hawaii to four environmental groups that have sued the government to obtain this information. This marks the first time the federal government has been forced to disclose the location of field tests of genetically engineered crops since it began keeping these locations from the public.

Following the ruling, representatives of the USDA handed over to Earthjustice attorneys information on the precise locations of open-air field tests of biopharmaceutical crops genetically engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs.

The court has not yet ruled on the public disclosure issue, and until then, plaintiffs cannot reveal the locations to the public at large.

Earthjustice, representing citizen groups Center for Food Safety (CFS), Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, filed a lawsuit in November 2003 in federal district court, seeking to compel USDA to review the environmental and public health impacts of such activities.

In August 2004, District Court Judge David Ezra ordered the disclosure, rejecting the government’s and the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s claims of potential "espionage," "vandalism," and "civil unrest."

The government and industry resisted disclosure since that ruling through a series of delay requests. At a hearing Friday, Judge Ezra denied their latest motion for a stay of disclosure, and the government handed the information to plaintiffs’ counsel.

"This ruling is an important first step toward the day when citizens can find out if biopharmaceutical crops are growing near their food crops or their back yards," said Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney.

"No one wants to accidentally get contraceptives in their corn flakes," Achitoff said. "Given the potentially disastrous effects these experiments could have on human health and the environment, we hope this ruling will result in lifting the veil of secrecy."

The plaintiffs sought information on the locations of these field tests in response to the government’s arguments that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they had not specified the precise locations of the field tests.

Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren originally ordered discovery of the locations in April 2004, ruling that the mere locations of the field tests were not confidential business information. Judge Ezra affirmed the ruling in August, but preliminarily limited disclosure to plaintiffs only, and allowed the government and industry 90 days to come up with better support for denying public access to the information.

"Allowing food crops to be engineered to produce chemicals or drugs is bad enough," said Peter Jenkins of CFS, "but hiding the location of the test fields from an at-risk public is indefensible. Yet we find our own government fighting on the side of the biotech industry to keep the public in the dark about drug-laced food crops."

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are still reviewing the information to see whether it complies with the court’s order. This latest development should allow plaintiffs’ November 2003 lawsuit calling for environmental reviews to move forward.

"With this order," said Jenkins, "we may at last be able to find out how close these experiments are to conventional food crops, ecologically sensitive areas, and our homes and schools. The next step will be to compel our government to investigate the impacts from these biotech crops."