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AmeriScan: February 16, 2005

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Sustainable Energy Groups Ring Climate Alarm Bells

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - In letters delivered today to the White House and the leadership of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, 33 business and environmental organizations urge the nation's political decisionmakers "to greatly reduce production of greenhouse gases through a mix of policies designed to shift energy use away from fossil fuels and towards greatly improved energy efficiency and a vast expansion of the use of renewable energy sources."

Noting that 2004 was the fourth warmest year on record and citing a series of recent studies suggesting that global climate change may be occurring more rapidly and with more severe consequences than earlier thought, the groups, acting together as the Sustainable Energy Coalition, are transmitting warnings from scientists around the world to the nation's political leaders.

"In spite of the consistency and severity of these warnings, the United States remains wedded to a climate policy that is based almost totally on voluntary measures, carbon sequestration, and long-term research," the letters say. "Such a policy is not only inadequate, it is irresponsible."

"It is even more troubling that today, the day that the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect, the United States remains isolated as one of the few industrialized nations that is not a party to the document."

"It is now long past the time when the United States, responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but having only five percent of the world’s population, should have embarked on a serious campaign to address this problem."

The letter's signers offer seven recommendations for action consistent with those recently put forth by the International Climate Change Taskforce.

First, they recommend that the United States establish a national renewable portfolio standard to generate at least 20 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 while aiming for 25 percent by 2025;

Also, the United States should establish a national renewable fuels standard to provide at least 25 percent of its liquid transportation fuels from renewable energy sources by 2025, the

They would like the United States to establish "aggressive" end-use efficiency targets for utilities as well as phase in much tighter efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, industrial processes, lighting, and buildings."

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Banned as Human Food, StarLink Corn Found in Food Aid

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - More than 70 environmental, consumer, farmer, human rights groups and unions from six Central American and Caribbean countries held simultaneous press conferences today to denounce the presence of unauthorized genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and in commercial imports of food originating mostly from the United States.

StarLink maize was found for the first time in food aid distributed directly by the WFP. StarLink is banned for human consumption due to possible allergic reactions to the genetically altered protein it contains.

In total over 50 samples of maize and soy from food aid in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and from commercial imports in Costa Rica and Dominican Republic were sent to Genetic ID, an independent U.S. laboratory, to verify whether GMOs were present.

GMOs were found in more than 80 percent of all samples sent to the laboratory.

Food aid has been identified as the main reason behind the presence of GMOs in countries of the region. In Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala all samples of food aid sent to the laboratory tested positive for GMOs.

“The WFP by introducing food aid with GMOs is placing at risk our children and pregnant women, the most vulnerable people in our society. The GMOs identified are not authorized in our country and the World Food Programme must immediately recall them,” said Julio Sánchez from Centro Humboldt in Nicaragua.

“In Nicaragua our farmers produce enough food and the WFP should buy any needed food within our country, instead of using imported food with GMOs,”added Sánchez.

The presence of GMOs in the only sample in which GM levels were tested, a bag from Guatemala, was higher than 70 percent.

StarLink corn contains Cry9C, an insecticidal protein. StarLink technology was developed by Aventis CropScience and its predecessor companies in the 1990s and licensed to a number of corn seed companies. StarLink corn was produced by inserting the gene for Cry9C into certain corn hybrids. The gene that makes the Cry9C protein was isolated from a common soil bacteria, a strain of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) subsp. tolworthi.

StarLink corn seed was registered and annually renewed for domestic animal feed and non-food, industrial use in the USA in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The U.S. registration was withdrawn by Aventis CropScience in mid-October, 2000.

While StarLink is no longer sold as human food, the use of StarLink corn in livestock feed and industrial, non-food uses is still approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In October 2000 the EPA said it "does not have any evidence that food containing StarLink corn will cause any allergic reaction in people, and the agency believes the risks, if any, are extremely low."

But the groups in Central America and Carribean are concerned that food with the Cry9C protein was distributed in their countries. The organizations requested the WFP to immediately recall all food aid containing GMOs.

“It is not acceptable that a maize which is illegal for human consumption worldwide is contained in food aid distributed in our country. Finding StarLink four years after it was banned clearly shows that genetically modified foods are not under control," said Mario Godinez of CEIBA in Guatemala.

“The unwanted presence of unlabeled GMOs shows that Costa Rica urgently needs a ban on GMOs," said Fabián Pacheco of the Social Ecology Association in Costa Rica. "In order to protect our population it is of utmost importance now more than ever to act with great caution."

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EPA Offers to Ease Air Pollution Requirements for States

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - States would be allowed to choose an interstate cap and trade program for sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) to prevent significant deterioration of air quality in place of the existing system of measuring increments of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), under a plan proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday.

Under a proposal to ease restrictions on states, they would also be allowed to adopt their own planning strategies and implement these in lieu of the NO2 increment system if they show that the Clean Air Act's Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements for NOx are satisfied through some combination of state and federal emissions controls that have been or will be adopted.

The third regulatory option offered is retain the existing increments NOx measured as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the ambient air as established in October 1988.

NOx is a precursor to the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution. At elevated levels these pollutants can aggravate heart and lung conditions, increasing susceptibility to respiratory illnesses. Fine particles are also associated with premature death.

In additional these pollutants have negative environmental impacts including vegatation damage, acid deposition, and visibility impairment.

The EPA indicates that regulations can be relaxed because pollution levels are falling and "ozone levels have decreased over the past 10 to 25 years."

"Under the current PSD program for NOx and in conjunction with numerous other air pollution control programs and regulations on industries and vehicles NOx emissions in the United States have fallen from 25.1 million tons per year in 1990 to 20.5 million tons in 2003, according to EPA's most recent air emissions trends report," the agency said. The report is found at: http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/econ-emissions.asp .

In 2003, the improved air quality resulted mainly from favorable weather conditions and continuing reductions in emissions, according to EPA's most recent ozone air quality trends report: http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/ozone.asp .

Several future regulations on industry, power plants and vehicles are expected to further reduce NOx emissions and help prevent the formation of ground-level ozone.

Information on these future regulations is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/cleanair2004/ .

EPA will accept comment on this proposal for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. For further information and a pre-publication copy of the proposed rule, visit: http://www.epa.gov/nsr/actions.asp .

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Sandia Lab Destroys Biohazards in Closed, Transportable System

LIVERMORE, California, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - Researchers at the National Nuclear Security Administration's Sandia National Laboratories have created a closed, transportable system that destroys not only chemical weapons but biohazards such as anthrax as well. It offers an alternative to open burning and open detonation of unwanted weapons.

The U.S. Army's patented Explosive Destruction System (EDS) could give homeland security personnel a tool for safely neutralizing a dormant terrorist device, or it could be used by the military to remove a land mine or canister shell without having to set off an open-air explosion.

A study released today by Sandia confirms EDS's effectiveness against biological agents, bio-contaminated containers, and improvised biological devices. The report, says Sandia researchers, shows that the systemcan do more than destroy explosively configured munitions containing chemical agents.

"There's high value in extending the EDS' successful track record into other areas - and bio came to mind right away," said Mary Clare Stoddard, a Sandia manager overseeing the research activity in Livermore.

With the BioEDS project, said Stoddard, Sandia's goal was to generate the data to confirm that this technology could be readily adapted to destroy a bioagent. Now, noted Stoddard, "that means that should the need arise, a solution stands ready."

First delivered to the U.S. Army in 1998 and under the sponsorship of the U.S. Army Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Project, the EDS has safely neutralized and discarded recovered chemical warfare material in an environmentally sound manner.

It was originally conceived for use with World War I and World War II vintage chemical warfare materials that must be destroyed under an international agreement.

The system operates by first explosively opening the casing and deactivating explosives, then neutralizing harmful agents.

In 2000, the EDS was first called to action when it was selected to destroy six sarin-filled nerve agent bomblets found in a pile of scrap metal at Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado.

In 2001, EDS safely destroyed an additional four sarin bomblets at the same site, while the following year it destroyed a 4.2-inch mortar containing phosgene that was found in a farmer's field in Gadsen, Alabama. The surrounding land was previously used as a former World War II Army training base.

The EDS, which weighs some 55,000 pounds, mounts on an open flatbed trailer and is transportable for rapid response to emergency recovery sites.

A rotating vessel contains the blast, vapor and fragments generated by the munition treatment process and serves as the container for the chemical neutralizing process.

A system of linear and conical charges open the munition. A chemical storage and feed system supplies reagents and water to the containment vessel, and a waste handling system drains and stores the treated effluent.

The bioagent treatment system for the EDS platform was developed by Sandia, which performed tests with anthrax simulants such as Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus stearothermophilus. Each of three treatment processes used during testing resulted in complete neutralization of the bacterial spores based on no bacterial growth in post-treatment incubations.

Sandia has worked with the Army to build five EDS units, which were originally expected to treat one to two aging, unstable recovered munitions per year.

The system's usefulness has expanded demand for its services, resulting in the safe treatment of 228 items to date, with more use envisioned for sites such as Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, where the EDS was deemed to offer the quickest, safest and most affordable way to dispose of 1,200 non-stockpile munitions.

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Court to Decide if Dredging New York-New Jersey Harbor Is Safe

NEW YORK, New York, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of local organizations filed for a preliminary injunction today to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dredging through a massive Superfund site in Newark Bay without considering safeguards to ensure dioxin and other toxic chemicals are not re-released into the New York and New Jersey waterways.

Today’s request for a preliminary injunction marks the next step in a suit first filed on January 21 against the Corps.

Plaintiff groups include the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), NY/NJ Baykeeper, and GreenFaith. They aim to ensure that the Corps uses safe methods for removing contaminated sediment before starting the giant underwater dig, which is part of a 10 year, multi-billion-dollar project by the Corps and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to open New York Harbor and Newark Bay to deep-draft container ships.

The groups also want to make sure that the dredging is coordinated with the ongoing Superfund cleanup of the waterways.

The coalition says contracts for portions of the dredging have already been awarded, and the Corps intends to dredge and blast through the site before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others sample it for exact contamination levels that would lead to a cleanup plan.

"With proper safeguards this could be a win-win situation. We all agree the waste must be removed, but the law says it has to be done safely," said NRDC attorney Brad Sewell. "Simply bulldozing through this toxic waste dump is illegal. The Army Corps needs to step back and review the very profound long-term consequences of its dredging plan."

Known as the Diamond Alkali Superfund site, the area in question includes Newark Bay and portions of the adjacent Kill van Kull and Arthur Kill bordering Staten Island. The site contains toxic chemicals that flowed in from industrial facilities on the Passaic River, including a now-closed plant that made Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The Corps will use dredges to dig up the contaminated sediment. Underwater explosives will be used to remove rock adjacent to contaminated sediment. The Corps concedes that its dredging will disperse the contaminated sediment as much as a mile away.

"Without a better plan, the Corps will spread some of the nation’s most contaminated sediments throughout our waterways. Newark Bay and its surrounding waters are public property. New Jersey citizens have the right to dredging methods that will protect their health and environment," said NY/NJ Baykeeper Andrew Willner.

Scientists have called Newark Bay one of the world’s worst sites for dioxin contamination, with layers of polluted sediment contributing to dangerous dioxin levels in blue crabs, fish, and fish-eating birds.

The EPA believes concentrations of dioxin recorded in Passaic River and Newark Bay blue crabs may be the highest ever discovered in aquatic animals.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has banned crabbing in and around Newark Bay because of an "extremely high" cancer risk and recommends strict limits on consumption of fish caught in the area. Research has also uncovered high dioxin levels in certain marine fish species caught by anglers throughout the NY/NJ region.

"We have a moral obligation to ensure residents living around Newark Bay are afforded the same level of protection as those communities living near the General Electric Superfund site on the Hudson River, where dredging will follow strict precautions and incorporate strong protocols to protect the public and the wider community of life," said Reverend Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, a New Jersey interfaith group.

In November 2003, NRDC, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and Hackensack Riverkeeper announced plans to sue Occidental Chemical Corp., the company responsible for the defunct Agent Orange plant, to force a cleanup of Newark Bay. In February 2004, the EPA determined that the Bay posed an "imminent and substantial" risk and incorporated it into the existing Superfund site for the Agent Orange factory site.

The Corps’ dredging plan interferes with the Superfund effort to study, contain and clean up the contamination, the lawsuit alleges. By scattering the pollution from the site, the agencies could shift clean up costs from the polluting companies now responsible for fixing the mess to American taxpayers, according to NRDC attorneys.

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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Delta Smelt Survival

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation organizations filed suit in federal court Tuesday challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent biological opinion concluding that increasing water exports from the San Francisco Bay-Delta to the San Joaquin Valley would have no major impacts on the survival of the federally protected delta smelt.

The Service issued a biological opinion on July 30, 2004, finding that the revised Operating Criteria and Plan (OCAP) for the jointly operated Central Valley Project and the State Water Project posed no jeopardy to the smelt.

This plan could result in additional annual pumping of hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water out of the Delta over the next 25 years.

"To claim the delta smelt is recovering and will not be impacted by increased water exports is wishful thinking at best," said Tina Swanson, Ph.D., senior scientist at The Bay Institute.

"The estuary is already facing a major ecological crisis," Swanson said. "Increasing water exports could well push the ecosystem toward collapse."

Because the delta smelt is listed as a threatened species, the Service is required to analyze what steps should be taken to move the species toward recovery. This was not done in the critical habitat analysis of the biological opinion, the lawsuit claims.

The plaintiff groups note that the latest state monitoring data show that delta smelt are at their lowest recorded level in over 35 years.

The delta smelt historically was one of the most common fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, its only habitat.

The California Department of Fish and Game lists "extremely high outflow," as a top cause of the smelt's decline.

Because the service ignored the threats to recovery and the real risk of extinction posed by the two huge water projects, the groups are asking the court to invalidate the biological opinion and require a new one based on sound science and current data.

Conservation groups also argue that the service failed to properly evaluate proposed operational changes to the federal and state water projects described in the OCAP, including plans to increase the pumping capacity and expand water deliveries under new long-term federal water contracts.

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Arctic Lake in Petroleum Reserve Loses Protections

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management's final plan for oil leasing in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska was released January 28, and it has conservationists outraged.

The Alaska Wilderness League, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, says the plan overturns the last remaining protections for critical wildlife habitat and Native hunting territory around near Teshekpuk Lake in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).

"In the end, this plan will allow oil leasing in 100 percent of the sensitive Teshekpuk Lake area. The lake itself will be available for immediate leasing," the League said. "The entire northeast area of the NPR-A encompasses 4.6 million acres and not a single one is offered full, permanent protection.

Federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised major concerns, as did Alaska’s North Slope Borough, many of whom are Alaska Natives who hunt and fish in the Teshekpuk Lake area.

"A large portion of the area that will now be offered up for leasing is the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which encompasses one of the most important and sensitive wetland complexes in the circumpolar Arctic," says the League. "The 45,000-head Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd has its calves and seeks relief from insects in this area, and other molting or nesting waterfowl, loons and shorebirds, gather there each summer."

"Despite more than 220,000 individual voices from all over the country telling the administration to keep the protections intact, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) final plan for oil leasing is even worse than the draft it released last summer," said the League.

BLM Alaska State Director Henri Bisson calls the plan "environmentally responsible." It supercedes a plan written in 1998 during the Clinton administration.

“The 1998 plan prohibited exploration - even in winter - in an area with an estimated two billion barrels of technically-recoverable oil and 3.5 trillion cu ft of natural gas. We believe we have devised a way to allow industry to look for that oil and at the same time keep in place or expand a number of protective measures designed to minimize potential adverse impacts on caribou, molting geese and subsistence harvests,” said Bisson.

“One way we will minimize impacts is by incorporating performance-based stipulations into this document," Bisson said. "These stipulations provide increased flexibility allowing for improved resource mitigation. They are driven by an objective, for example: ‘minimize disruption of caribou movement and subsistence use.’ The activities on the ground must meet this objective. They also identify current accepted standards such as ‘all pipelines must be a minimum of 7 feet as measured from the ground to the bottom of the pipeline.’"

But these plans do not reassure the Alaska Wilderness League, which said, "Although BLM claims it will protect wildlife through stipulations, the amended plan actually waters down the minimal stipulations in the 1998 decision."

"BLM’s final proposal states certain leases will have 'no surface occupancy' stipulations, but pipelines are allowed virtually everywhere in the entire area and permanent roads of some kind are allowed in almost all areas. Moreover, BLM has declined even to enforce the stipulations it has. For instance, when faced with the first development proposal in the Reserve, BLM waived no surface occupancy stipulations for ConocoPhillips’s Alpine Satellite Development Plan," the League said.

The BLM's plan drew opposition from California Waterfowl Association, Ducks Unlimited, Pacific Flyway Council, Wildlife Management Institute, The Wildlife Society, The Nature Conservancy and others in the conservation community. In addition, 200 ornithologists and other wildlife professionals submitted a letter to BLM calling for Teshekpuk Lake area protections to remain in place.

Bisson says the BLM is "protecting sensitive habitat for wildlife" by applying no surface occupancy restrictions on 217,000 acres north of Teshekpuk Lake, 16,000 acres east of the lake and 141,000- acres south/southeast of the lake for a total of 374,000 acres --delineating 7 lease tracts north of Teshekpuk Lake (ranging from 46,000 to 59,000 acres in size) and limiting permanent surface disturbance there to no more than 300 acres per lease.

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Family Owned Forests Favored By Fish and Wildlife Service

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Forest Foundation have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that provides a framework for cooperating on projects that work to stop the loss of healthy and productive forest and promote the value of private stewardship on America's family owned forestlands.

The agreement seeks to improve communications, education and outreach, promote synergy and foster greater understanding and collaboration between the organizations.

Under the agreement, the Service and American Forest Foundation (AFF) will identify conservation partnership and education approaches and develop solutions that mutually benefit both organizations.

"The AFF is doing the important work of helping sustain family tree farms and conserve species such as the gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpecker, northern bobwhite, and a host of others," said Service Director Steve Williams. "The Service is pleased to partner with AFF to work on mutual goals in areas such as watershed health, endangered species protection, and providing access for hunting and fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation."

AFF President Laurence Wiseman said, "This is a tremendous opportunity for our family forestland owners to further enhance their commitment to activestewardship. Through AFF's programs: the American Tree Farm System, Forests for Watershed and Wildlife and Project Learning Tree, the Service will increase public awareness while supporting its mission."

In August 2004, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and its partners, the American Bird Conservancy, Clemson University, and the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy received a $170,000 grant from the Service to improve ecosystem conservation for declining species dependent on fire-maintained southern pine communities and forested wetlands in South Carolina. It was the second grant awarded to AFF and its partners in 2004.

This partnership project builds on the Service’s Safe Harbor model for the red-cockaded woodpecker and applies it to forest conservation in South Carolina. The focus is on engaging family forest owners in active management to benefit rare and declining species.

The project also complements a multi-year, landscape level conservation effort currently being undertaken by the Low Country Forest Conservation Project (LFCP) which includes Clemson University, Ducks Unlimited, the Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center, the Low Country Open Land Trust, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the Conservation Fund, and The Nature Conservancy.



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