AmeriScan: February 7, 2007

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Enviros Disappointed With Bush FY 2008 Budget

WASHINGTON, DC, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental groups analyzed the FY 2008 budget sent to Congress this week by President George W. Bush and say it falls far short of what the country needs for environmental protection.

Shortcomings include funding for just three percent of what the nation needs to keep our water clean, said Heather Taylor, deputy legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, at a press briefing today.

Peter Raabe, policy director for budget and appropriations at American Rivers, said, "America's crumbling water and sewage system is making us sick. Enough raw and partially treated sewage ends up in our rivers and streams every year to cover Pennsylvania ankle-deep, and Americans spend at least four billion dollars a year on medical care when it sickens them."

The budget line for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which supports needed water and sewer repairs and upgrades, was equal to the FY07 request at $688 million. Even as plants that were constructed in response to the Clean Water Act 30 years ago face needed repairs, this represents a cut of nearly half in the past 10 years, Raabe calculated.

The House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week marked up legislation that would fund the program at $20 billion over five years.

There is less money in the FY 2008 budget than was proposed two years ago for ocean protection, even though the president just signed a law that promises increased protection for our oceans, Taylor said.

"The President's budget plays politics with ocean conservation," said Beth Lowell, Oceana's ocean wildlife advocate.

"Core mission programs continue to be zeroed out. They are not included in the Administration request, with the assumption that Congress will add the money in later," she said. "For example, the National Undersea Research Program was once again stripped of funds. This program provides critical data for the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect and manage fisheries, corals and other undersea areas."

Coral conservation suffers an almost $3 million cut with the zeroing out of the Hawaii, Florida, and U.S. Caribbean Coral Reef Initiatives, said Lowell.

"At first glance, it may appear that NOAA fared somewhat well in the budget since it only received a one percent cut over 2006 enacted levels, but as always, the devil is in the details," said Lowell. "For the past few years, the NOAA budget has sustained cuts totaling over $100 million dollars," she said. "In fact, the 2008 budget is over 100 million less than the agency operated with in 2005."

All sea turtles that swim in U.S. waters are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Yet, instead of increasing funding for sea turtle conservation, the program was cut by $3.6 million dollars, Lowell said.

"There are bright spots for the environment in this budget, but they are hard to enjoy when coupled with the potential for drastic losses," said Taylor.

"For instance, this budget does include a much-needed and long-overdue increase for the National Parks Service," Taylor said. But she pointed out that the increase is tied to revenue that would come from leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies for drilling.

Raabe noted a number of positive signs in the budgets that affect America's rivers most directly. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction funds would drop from $1.555 billion to $1.523 billion, while the Corps maintenance budget would increase from $2.258 billion to $2.471 billion.

The National Fish Habitat Initiative would increase by $3 million to a total budget of $5 million, he said. And the NOAA budget includes $8 million for dam acquisition and $2 million for technical assistance on removal of two major dams on Maine's Penobscot River.

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$1.1 Million Funds Marine Debris Removal

WASHINGTON, DC, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - Derelict fishing nets, ghost crab pots, coils of abandoned monofilament fishing line and other marine debris will be removed from shorelines across the country with funding of $1.1 million from a public-private partnership.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program announced today the funding of 12 grants totaling more than $1.1 million.

The grants, which include more than $495,000 in federal funds and an additional $608,000 in matching contributions, were awarded to projects in 10 states and two U.S. territories from proposals received in 2006. Under the program, marine debris will be removed from Chesapeake Bay to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"Across the nation, these projects will help local communities address the problem of marine debris in our waters," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "NOAA is pleased to continue this partnership with the foundation, federal agencies, and our other partners to reduce and prevent marine debris in the environment."

"We are excited to have joined this effort to address marine debris across the nation," said National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director Jeff Trandahl. "We are taking steps now to prevent further destructive debris from entering the marine environment while we work with partners from Hawaii to Virginia to prioritize areas for removal of existing debris."

"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was one of the initial sponsors of the 'proof of concept' project to establish a need for marine debris clean-up in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and we are very excited to be returning to this issue through our partnership with NOAA," Trandahl said.

The foundation will be accepting Marine Debris Grants Program proposals for 2007 beginning in February 2007.

Some of the priorities identified for 2007 funding include creation or improvement of best management practices of ports and marinas to decrease the threat of marine debris to marine life and navigational safety; work with the fishing industry and/or fisheries councils and organizations to develop better solutions to reduce derelict fishing gear in the marine environment; and increased understanding of the sources and impacts of marine debris on marine mammals, sensitive habitats, tourist and fishing industries, and navigational safety.

Grant application directions and forms will be available online at: http://www.nfwf.org/programs/marine_debris.cfm.

For more information about the program, contact Michelle Pico at pico@nfwf.org.

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Hartford Landfill to Close by 2008 Year End

HARTFORD, Connecticut, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the city of Hartford and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, CRRA, today announced major steps forward on plans to close the Hartford landfill.

The agencies say the landfill, located on 100 acres north of Connecticut's capital city, will be closed in a manner that protects natural resources and the public health, benefits city residents and allows CRRA to meet its responsibilities for efficient processing of solid waste.

The city of Hartford and the CRRA signed an agreement that commits CRRA to retrofitting of diesel equipment to improve air quality in the city. Up to $150,000 will be spent to retrofit 17 pieces of diesel powered off-road equipment with devices that reduce diesel emissions. This equipment includes loaders, bulldozers and specialized trucks used at the landfill, the Mid-Connecticut Project Trash-to-Energy Facility and recycling processing centers.

The agreement provides for CRRA funding of programs to increase recycling in Hartford; and creates a citizen's advisory group to participate in decisions on future uses of the site. CRRA and the city will work with the committee to consider uses that could include handicapped access for hiking and biking, a skateboard park, basketball courts, a fenced dog park, a bird observation station, and a nature research center.

In a tandem agreement, CRRA and the city agreed to partner to seek state assistance for the closure and long-term maintenance and monitoring of the landfill. The state will be asked to provide $15 million toward these costs, while CRRA is committed to providing $20 million.

CRRA President Thomas Kirk said, "Closing the Hartford landfill is a step in our plans to reduce the number of waste disposal facilities in the city of Hartford. After we open our new state-of-the-art recycling center and close the landfill, CRRA will have gone from five to two facilities here."

The Department of Environmental Protection has tentatively approved modification of CRRA's permit for the landfill that includes ending waste disposal at the facility by December 31, 2008; installation of the latest technology synthetic cap as the final cover; and development of plans for post-closure use of the site.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said, "We're happy that the agreement closes the landfill early while at the same time CRRA lives up to its obligation to close, monitor, and maintain the landfill site for the next 30 years."

DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said, "The actions we are announcing today resolve many long-standing issues and start us down a positive path toward the closing of the Hartford landfill."

Dr. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said, "This is a turning point for environmental justice in Connecticut. DEP, under the leadership of Commissioner McCarthy, is to be commended for taking this precedent setting action to require negotiated community benefits that will reduce pollution and increase environmental benefits in low-income communities and communities of color that bear the onus of environmental hazards for the state and enjoy fewer benefits."

The landfill was opened by the city in 1940 and CRRA leased it from the city in 1982. Since 1988 CRRA has used 80 acres of the site to dispose of materials that cannot be processed in CRRA's Mid-Connecticut Project Trash-to-Energy Facility. CRRA also disposes of ash residue generated at that plant on the adjacent 16 acres. These facilities serve 70 cities and towns.

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Arizona Sets Bar High for Sedona Wastewater Plant

PHOENIX, Arizona, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has issued a water quality permit for the proposed Bella Terra wastewater treatment plant near Sedona, where unique red rock formations draw millions of visitors a year.

In 2006 the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors approved Bella Terra on Oak Creek as a new subdivision consisting of 106 lots on 53.5 acres bordering Oak Creek. ADEQ was not involved in the county's zoning decision.

The permit, known as an Aquifer Protection Permit, regulates the operation of the wastewater treatment plant currently planned for the Bella Terra on Oak Creek development in Sedona. Based on the number of lots and occupancy figures at the subdivision, the treatment plant will generate less than 25,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day at maximum capacity.

"This is the toughest water quality permit ever issued for a facility of this size," said ADEQ Director Steve Owens. "Under this permit, Oak Creek and precious groundwater resources in the Sedona area will be protected to the highest level possible."

Effluent from the plant will be disposed using a subsurface irrigation system, and is required to meet Class A+ Reclaimed Water Quality Standards, the highest water quality standard. No effluent disposal is allowed in Oak Creek or Carroll Canyon Wash.

To further protect Oak Creek and Carroll Canyon Wash from any impacts, a required monitoring well, known as a sentinel well, will provide an "early warning system" before any impacts to Oak Creek or Carroll Canyon Wash can occur.

The permit requires ultraviolet disinfection instead of disinfection by chlorine to keep by-products capable of impacting groundwater or Oak Creek and to eliminate any possibility of exposure to chlorine gas by community members.

Owens said that if the wastewater treatment plant were not built, Bella Terra residents would need to install septic systems, which would expose the groundwater and wash to the high risk of contamination.

The wastewater treatment plant will produce one-third of the total nitrogen and less than one-millionth of the bacteria that would be produced by those septic systems, which do not treat wastewater or otherwise remove contaminants from wastewater.

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Horse Genome Assembled

BETHESDA, Maryland, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - The first draft of the horse genome sequence has been deposited in public databases and is freely available for use by biomedical and veterinary researchers around the globe, leaders of the international Horse Genome Sequencing Project said today.

Mapping the horse genome will help scientists to understand the genes that contribute to genetic disorders, reproduction, disease resistance, and equine health in general. Horse enthusiasts may be interested in the genes that control other traits, such as coat color and size.

Studying the horse genome may also help researchers better understand human disease. Humans are more similar to the horse than to the laboratory mouse, and some 80 known conditions, such as arthritis, are similar between horses and humans.

The $15 million effort to sequence the approximately 2.7 billion DNA base pairs in the genome of the horse, Equus caballus, was funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

A team led by Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Ph.D., at the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University carried out the sequencing and assembly of the horse genome.

Sequencing of the domestic horse genome began in 2006, building upon a 10 year collaborative effort among an international group of scientists to use genomics to address important health issues for equines, known as the Horse Genome Project at: www.uky.edu/Ag/Horsemap

The horse whose DNA was used in the sequencing effort is a Thoroughbred mare named Twilight from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Researchers obtained the DNA from a small sample of the animal's blood.

Twilight is stabled at the McConville Barn, Baker Institute for Animal Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, at Cornell University, with a small herd of horses that have been selected and bred for more than 25 years to study the mechanisms that prevent maternal immunological recognition and destruction of the developing fetus during mammalian pregnancy.

The research, conducted by Cornell professor Doug Antczak, V.M.D, Ph.D., and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has implications in reproduction, clinical organ transplantation and immune regulation.

Over the next several months, researchers plan to further improve the accuracy of the horse genome sequence and expect to deposit an even higher resolution assembly in public databases.

Researchers can access the horse genome sequence data through GenBank www.ncbi.nih.gov/Genbank at NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The data is also available from the Broad Institute at: www.broad.mit.edu/ftp/pub/assemblies/mammals/horse

Over the next several months, researchers plan to further improve the accuracy of the horse genome sequence and expect to deposit an even higher resolution assembly in public databases.

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Just One Endangered Crane Survived Florida Storms

CRYSTAL RIVER, Florida, February 7, 2007 (ENS) - The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, WCEP, says that one of the juvenile cranes presumed lost in the massive storms that hit central Florida last week has been found alive.

Seventeen juvenile whooping cranes died as a result of the storms that swept through central Florida during the evening and early morning of February 1 and 2.

Project biologists with the International Crane Foundation picked up the radio signal of crane 15-06 on Saturday afternoon near the pensite at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge where the other birds perished in the storm.

They lost the signal briefly before picking it up again on Sunday, tracking the young bird to an area in Citrus County, some miles away from the pensite. The juvenile crane was observed from the air in good remote habitat with two sandhill cranes. Number 15-06 is in the same area with three whooping cranes from the Class of 2005.

During the last leg of the ultralight-led migration last fall, crane 15-06 dropped out, but was found nearby two days later and brought to the pensite with his flockmates.

"Finding 15-06 alive represents a ray of light during an otherwise dark time for whooping crane recovery," said John Christian, co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

"While we are still recovering from the initial shock of the loss of so many other young birds, this latest development demonstrates the resilience of this particular crane, and our partnership will bounce back as well," Christian said.

WCEP is still determining the cause of death of the 17 whooping cranes, which were part of the ultralight-led "Class of 2006" and arrived at the Chassahowitzka NWR in mid-January.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

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