AmeriScan: February 22, 2007

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Interior Inspector General Blasts Wildlife Enforcement

WASHINGTON, DC, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement program is plagued by weak leadership and oversight that has contributed to "a general mistrust of senior management," according to a new report by the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Inspector General. The report is a harsh critique of the program, calling into question its effectiveness and noting that one interviewee said "the ship is rudderless at the top."

The assessment of the law enforcement office, issued earlier this month, is the first review of the program since 2001. The office's 208 special agents are charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other federal wildlife laws.

The report found that less than half of the law enforcement employees trust senior management. In addition, the program lacks a system of quality control to reliably assess the "efficiency and effectiveness" of its work.

Since 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, law enforcement program has moved to a "direct-line authority" model in which there is a separate law enforcement chain-of-command, apart from other FWS programs, such as refuges and ecology. The direct-line model places more emphasis on the role of top leadership.

Recently, however, the long-time law enforcement program chief, Kevin Adams, was removed and has not been replaced.

"Our principal federal wildlife protection program is now a headless horseman," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of workers in natural resource agencies.

Ruch noted that one of the main reasons to move the enforcement program to direct-line authority was to insulate sensitive investigations from political interference.

"The wildlife agents are saying that politics still impedes enforcement and that the reforms have not yet taken hold," he said.

At the same time, criminal enforcement of wildlife protection laws under Interior Department jurisdiction has fallen to decade-low levels, according to Justice Department figures compiled and released Tuesday by PEER.

According to Department of Justice figures, criminal referrals of wildlife offenses from all Interior agencies, principally the Fish and Wildlife Service, dropped by more than half since 2000. During the same period, federal prosecutions filed on these cases fell by more than a third.

"Federal wildlife protection appears to be moving in the wrong direction at a time when the need for effective enforcement of these laws has grown more acute," Ruch said.

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Schwarzenegger, McCain Call for Stronger U.S. Climate Action

TERMINAL ISLAND, California, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and presidential hopeful Senator John McCain on Wednesday urged the federal government to more aggressively tackle global warming. The two Republicans, who toured a Los Angeles port together, touted California's new legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including a recent executive order signed by Schwarzenegger to set a standard for low carbon fuels.

The order, issued last month, aims to reduce the carbon intensity of California's passenger vehicle fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020. State officials estimate that the standard will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 13 million metric tons a year, the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road.

"All of this is great for our environment, our economy and our taxpayers because the low carbon fuel standard will more than triple the size of our renewable fuels market in California and put more than seven million alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles on our roads by 2020 without any new government spending," Schwarzenegger said. "It's also great for our national security because we will be less dependent on foreign oil and less vulnerable to price shocks and instability beyond our borders."

The European Union has adopted a similar standard, aiming to cut emissions by 500 million metric tons by 2020 and Schwarzenegger said the U.S. government should do the same.

The governor also promoted California's plan to use an emissions trading plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, calling it a good model for the federal government to consider.

"They can see what we're doing out here, then take that back to Washington and hopefully we can duplicate that on a national level," Schwarzenegger said.

McCain, an Arizona Republican who has been a leading Senate proponent of mandatory greenhouse gas emission reductions, praised California's efforts and called the Bush administration's record on global warming "terrible."

"I've held hearings for years and got no cooperation from the administration on this issue," McCain said.

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Judge Blocks Texas Order to Accelerate Coal Plant Approval

AUSTIN, Texas, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - A Texas state judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked an executive order issued by Texas Governor Rick Perry that aimed to fast-track the permitting process for new coal-fired power plants. The decision is a victory for citizen groups, who filed suit last month asking the court to void the executive order.

Issued in 2005, the order directed the State Office of Administrative Hearings, SOAH, to take no more than six months to issue a recommendation once they'd received the official proposal.

The plaintiff's attorneys argue the order violates the Texas Constitution and two separate statutes.

"The Texas legislature gave citizens a legal process - the contested case hearing before SOAH - by which to protect their health and property," said Jim Blackburn, an attorney for the citizen groups. "Governor Perry's Executive Order ordering SOAH to change their process assumes power that was not given to him by either the Texas Constitution or the legislature."

State District Judge Stephen Yelenosky agreed and said he "concluded that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their argument that the governor lacks that authority," the judge said.

The temporary injunction, granted by Yelenosky, called on state hearing administrators to ignore the order and consider rescheduling permit hearings on six proposed coal-fired power plants in East and Central Texas.

Yelonosky agreed with the plaintiff's argument that the accelerated timetable deprived them of the necessary time to prepare for the hearing on the coal plants, set for Wednesday in Austin.

The suit reflects growing concern that new coal-fired power plants could exacerbate Texas' already severe air pollution problems, adversely impacting the environment and public health.

But proponents contend the state will not be able to meet its electricity needs in the near future without the new plants.

"No one should be surprised that a single liberal Austin judge would rule against Governor Perry and his efforts to increase energy capacity in Texas," said Robert Black, spokesman for the governor. "We will take a close look at the ruling and make a determination on how we will proceed."

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Drought in Colorado River's Past and Future

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - The Colorado River's average annual flows vary more than previously assumed and extended droughts are not uncommon, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Research Council. The conclusions, based on tree-ring reconstructions of the river's flow over hundreds of years, indicate that future droughts may be longer and more severe because of global warming.

The report found ample evidence suggesting that rising temperatures will reduce the river's flow and water supplies and warns that coping with water shortages is becoming more difficult because of rapid population growth.

Technology and conservation will not provide a panacea for dealing with limited water supplies in the long run, the report warns.

The findings are a stark reminder of the need for better management of the water resources of the Colorado River, which provides water for tens of millions of Americans as well as for agriculture and hydroelectric power.

The river also is home to diverse ecological habitats and is central to hundreds of miles of beautiful vistas that it carved out over millions of years, including the Grand Canyon.

The National Research Council conducted the study in response to exceptionally dry conditions in much of the Colorado River basin in recent years.

The committee also looked at how a steadily rising population and related increases in water demand will affect Colorado River water management.

The population across the western United States has grown rapidly in recent decades - Arizona saw a roughly 40 percent rise in population since 1990, for instance, while Colorado's population grew by 30 percent in the same period.

Increasing urban demands for water are often met through sales, leases, or transfers of water rights from agricultural users. Although 80 percent of available water in the West is devoted to agriculture, this allocation is finite, the committee warned, and water transfer agreements will be limited in their ability to satisfy growing, long-term demand.

In addition, such agreements may be inhibited by their potential effects on third parties, such as downstream farmers or ecosystems. Technology and conservation measures are useful and necessary for stretching existing water supplies, the committee acknowledged, but any gains in water supply will be eventually absorbed by the growing population.

The committee called for a collaborative, comprehensive basinwide study of urban water practices and pressing issues in water supply and demand, which should be used as a basis for action oriented water planning.

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Ozone-producing Air Purifiers Can Dirty Air

IRVINE, California, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - New research finds that using indoor air purifiers that produce ozone may actually make the air dirtier when they are used at the same time as household cleaning products.

Ozone emitted by purifiers reacts in the air with unsaturated volatile organic compounds such as limonene - a chemical added to cleaning supplies that gives them a lemon fragrance. This creates additional microscopic particles, according to scientists at the University of California at Irvine.

"The public needs to be aware that every air purification approach has its limitation, and ionization air purifiers are no exception," said Sergey Nizkorodov, assistant professor of chemistry at UCI and co-author of the study. "These air purifiers can not only elevate the level of ozone, a formidable air pollutant in itself, but also increase the amount of harmful particulate matter in indoor air."

The study appeared online Thursday in "Environmental Science and Technology."

High levels of airborne particles can aggravate asthma and cardiovascular problems, and have been linked to higher death and lung cancer rates. Excess ozone can damage the lungs, causing chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation.

The researchers tested two types of air purifiers - a commercial ionic purifier that emits about two milligrams of ozone per hour, and an ozonolysis purifier that emits approximately 100 milligrams of ozone per hour.

They found that continuous operation of the ionic purifier without limonene resulted in a slight reduction in the average particle concentration, while operation of the ozonolysis purifier resulted in no detectable effect on the particle level.

When limonene was added to the room, the particle concentration shot up in both cases, on some occasions up to 100 times the original level. Adding limonene to the room when a purifier was not operating produced little change in the overall particle level.

The scientists also developed a mathematical model that precisely matched their experimental observations and can be used to predict whether a given air purifier will make the air dirtier in a given indoor environment.

This model could prove important for California state officials, who have been tasked with implementing statewide emissions standards and labels for indoor air purifiers that emit ozone.

"State regulators should set a strict limit on the amount of ozone produced by air purifiers to protect the public from exposure to unhealthy ozone and particulate matter levels," Nizkorodov said.

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College and University Presidents Pledge Climate Neutral Campuses

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 22, 2007 (ENS) - Seventy-nine college and university presidents have promised to achieve "climate neutrality" on their campuses. Called the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, the agreement is modeled after a similar pact made by city mayors across the country.

Climate neutrality is the point at which campus carbon dioxide emissions are offset by the use of renewable energy and the oxygen released from trees and other plants on campuses.

Signed mostly by the heads of smaller institutions, the signers do include heads of larger schools such as University of Florida with more than 50,000 students, the University of Colorado-Boulder with 29,000 students, and the University of Hawaii Manoa campus with 20,600 students.

The founding members of the climate commitment effort aim have signatures on letters of support from more than 1,000 university presidents by the end of 2009.

The presidents are working with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, ecoAmerica and Second Nature to achieve their climate neutral goals.

The climate commitment pledge asks universities to develop an institutional plan within two years outlining how they can neutralize their effects on the climate. In the meantime, universities are asked to initiate at least two of five actions that will help to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.

The five actions are:

  1. Establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Councilís LEED Silver standard or equivalent.
  2. Adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring purchase of ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist.
  3. Establish a policy of offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel paid for by our institution.
  4. Encourage use of and provide access to public transportation for all faculty, staff, students and visitors at our institution
  5. Within one year of signing this document, begin purchasing or producing at least 15 percent of our institutionís electricity consumption from renewable sources.
  6. Establish a policy or a committee that supports climate and sustainability shareholder proposals at companies where our institutionís endowment is invested.
The college and university presidents and chancellors who are joining the Commitment believe that exerting leadership in addressing climate change will stabilize and reduce their long-term energy costs, attract excellent students and faculty, attract new sources of funding, and increase the support of alumni and local communities.