Forest Service Fires Up Outsourcing StudiesWASHINGTON, DC, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is initiating studies for contracting out its entire law enforcement, budgetary and human resources staff, as well as significant portions of its environmental, fire control and timber sale workforce, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The documents obtained by PEER show that the Forest Service is planning to look at replacing more than 10,000 of its approximately 44,000 person workforce with privately contracted employees by the end of FY 2007.
"Under this corporate quota plan, our national forests could be placed under operational control of timber companies best poised to low bid the jobs that are supposed to oversee their activities," said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director. "These schemes appear designed to produce a Georgia-Pacific National Forest patrolled by private rent-a-rangers."
The studies are part of the Bush administration's plan to review the potential for outsourcing as many as 850,000 federal jobs across the government.
PEER reports that the Forest Service plans to commission studies in fiscal year 2004 for all 650 of its law enforcement positions, 300 natural resource monitoring and data collection jobs, and 150 positions from its national fire center in Boise, Idaho.
The agency will study outsourcing of its entire 2,000 person financial management staff in fiscal year 2005, along with all 900 human resources positions.
In fiscal 2006, the agency plans to examine outsourcing between 5,000 and 10,000 fire fighters with private contractors.
Conservationists are also concerned about a mandate for the Park Service to study 1,700 jobs by next year .
"This massive contracting program is debilitating agencies, demolishing employee morale and convincing thousands that a future career in federal service is a bureaucratic crap shoot," said Ruch.
There are signs that Congress is not as enthusiastic about outsourcing as the administration. The Republican controlled Appropriations Committee in the House reported out an Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that would block further "competitive sourcing" in the Forest Service as well as in the Park Service and other Interior agencies.
Owl Conservationists Challenge Oregon Timber SalesPORTLAND, Oregon, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of six conservation groups filed a federal court challenge Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's approval of timber sales in southwest Oregon. The conservationists say the sales of old growth timber will destroy critical habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl.
They allege that the service's approval, which is contained with a document called a biological opinion, dismisses the destruction of critical habitat and fails to analyze the impacts of the logging to the survival of the owl.
"Once again, the federal agencies are not taking their responsibilities seriously to protect the spotted owl's old growth home," said Doug Heiken, field representative of Oregon Natural Resources Council, one of the plaintiff groups. "These ancient forests are critical for spotted owls and other wildlife, not to mention water quality and recreation."
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, primarily based on the widespread destruction of its old growth forest home.
In 1992, the FWS designated critical habitat for the owl in Washington, Oregon, and northern California, noting that the protected habitat would be a valuable tool to recover owl populations. But conservationists say the agency has failed to designate critical habitat by allowing thousands of acres to be logged.
One example is the Kelsey Whisky timber sale in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Medford District. Planned logging in this region will destroy over 1,700 acres of old growth trees and spotted owl critical habitat in the Zane Grey roadless area - a 46,000 acre preserve that is the largest, forested roadless area on BLM land anywhere in the United States.
The Zane Grey roadless area now supports habitat important for connecting isolated owl populations. Neither the FWS nor the BLM evaluated the impact of the old growth logging on the spotted owl, the plaintiff groups allege.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service apparently believes that logging owl critical habitat is acceptable because the agencies plan to allow other trees to grow into habitat in the future," said Amy Williams-Derry, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups in court. "That position makes no logical or legal sense."
Represented by Earthjustice, the groups challenging government's action are Oregon Natural Resources Council, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Siskiyou Regional Education Project, Headwaters, and Friends of Living Oregon Waters.
Republican Enviros Blast Bush for Withholding InformationALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - Withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush administration, REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, said today.
REP America reacted to published reports that the administration withheld an analysis showing a Senate bill to clean up power plant pollution would be significantly more effective and cost only marginally more than the administration's "Clear Skies" plan.
REP America President Martha Marks said, "First, the administration watered down language about global warming in EPA's recent state of the environment report. Then, the administration dismissed federal scientists' concerns in declaring that Yellowstone National Park is in no danger. Now, we see that senators were not given vital information about cleaning up unhealthy power plant emissions."
"The administration should treat the American people and their Congressional representatives like adults and give them the unvarnished truth about the environment," she said.
REP America believes that reducing unhealthy pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions together would be the most efficient way to clean up power plants, which are responsible for one-third of CO2 emissions across the United States. CO2 is the major heat trapping greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.
Bipartisan "four-pollutant" legislation requiring reduced power plant emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide through a market based approach is the best solution, REP America says.
In addition, new legislation should give all power plants a deadline to meet modern pollution reduction standards, the organization said.
"Thanks to enforcement of the Clean Air Act, our nation has made a lot of progress in reducing unhealthy air pollution," Marks said. "There is more work to be done, however. It's not fair that old, outdated power plants are allowed to emit more unhealthy air pollution than newer plants. All power plants should have to meet the same standards."
"The U.S. must do more to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming," Marks said. "By addressing all these issues at once, we can get more emissions reductions per dollar spent, protect public health, and give regulatory certainty to utilities and other power plant owners," Marks said.
Senate Republicans supporting the four-pollutant legislation include Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Another bill is co-sponsored by Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both of Maine.
House Republicans supporting the four-pollutant legislation include Sherwood Boehlert and Sue Kelly of New York, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, Nancy Johnson and Christopher Shays of Connecticut, and Frank LoBiondo and Jim Saxton of New Jersey.
Pollution May Close Record Number of U.S. BeachesWASHINGTON, DC, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - If recent trends continue more than 18,000 beaches will be closed this year because the water is too polluted, warns Oceana, a national ocean advocacy group. This would be a 40 percent increase from 2001 - the most recent data available - when there were more than 13,000 beach closures.
"Instead of seeing improvements, we are seeing thousands of beach closures every year," said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana's Pollution Program. "Unless we do a better job, people will continue to get sick on vacation, be disappointed when they get to the beach, and end up stuck at the pool."
America's beaches have been closing at record rates in past years due to contamination from sewage, cruise ship waste and other sources. The Pew Oceans Commission report on the nation's ocean policy, released last month, warned of a wide range of pollution threats that are harming beaches and coastal waters.
Half the U.S. population lives along the coast, millions more visit each year, and as a result some believe the nation is in danger of loving its beaches to death.
Nonpoint source pollution, such as runoff from urban sprawl and agriculture, is an increasing problem for coastal waters and beaches. One estimate finds that some 10.9 million gallons of oil - the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill - runs off roads and driveways every eight months.
Although communities could do much more to prevent beach pollution, the good news, says Oceana's Savitz, is that many states are finally testing the waters for pollution levels.
"People have a right to swim at their local beaches and a right to know whether it is clean enough to do so," she added. Improvements in waste management and coastal development practices could lower the number of beach closures, Savitz said.
To try and limit the number of disappointed beachgoers, Oceana and Earth 911 have launched a free early warning service about beach closures. People can sign up for the free service at http://www.oceana.org and will receive free updates on beach closures.
The alerts will be sent via e-mail and text messages will appear on cell phones and PDAs.
Cancer Group: McDonald's Beef Pledge Should Go FurtherCHICAGO, Illinois, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - The decision by McDonald's last month to require its suppliers to phase out animal growth promotion antibiotics used in human medicine by 2004 was met with widespread support by environmental and public health organizations, but some say there is evidence the fast food giant should go a bit further.
The Global Policy on Antibiotics announced last month creates a set of standards for McDonald's direct meat suppliers and encourages indirect suppliers to take similar steps to eliminate growth promoting antibiotics and to reduce other antibiotic usage.
By one recent estimate, more than 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to healthy farm animals.
Based on the growing body of evidence, the American Medical Association and more than 275 other groups have called for an end to the routine use of medically important antibiotics in healthy food animals because humans who eat their meat can develop resistance to the antibiotics.
But the initiative excludes hormonal growth promoters, despite concerns that these hormones could be linked to reproductive cancers warns, the Cancer Prevention Coalition.
The beef industry contends that the residues of these hormones found in beef pose little or no threat to humans, but Dr. Samuel Epstein, chairman of the cancer group, is not convinced.
Epstein says McDonalds should heed the findings of a scientific committee formed in the wake of the European Union's attempt to ban hormonal beef imports in 1999.
That committee of nine independent experts, Epstein says, undertook a comprehensive risk assessment of all growth promoting hormones and concluded in 1999 that the risk to consumers had been clearly established, and that safe exposure levels could not be identified for any of these hormones.
The committee warned that exposure to even small traces in meat posed carcinogenic, endocrine, and genetic risks, especially for young children because of their "extremely low level" of production of sex hormones.
The EU went further by funding 17 comprehensive studies on hormone residues in meat, and Epstein says all of these - most already published in peer reviewed scientific journals - further document the carcinogenic, genetic, and other risks of hormonal meat.
Epstein says McDonald's should further strengthen its Social Responsibility campaign by extending concerns on the dangers of growth promoting agents, from the antibiotic to the hormonal.
Two Charged With $1.9 Million Tax Evasion on CFC SalesWASHINGTON, DC, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - Two businessmen have been charged with with conspiring to evade approximately $1.9 million in excise taxes due on sales of an ozone depleting chemical called thichlorotrifluoroethane, or CFC-113, federal law enforcement officials announced today.
Today's federal criminal case is the first involving CFC-113. Once widely used as an industrial solvent and as a refrigerant in centrifugal chillers for large buildings, CFC-113 now has a limited domestic market and is used in relatively small quantities for laboratory and analytical purposes.
An indictment charging Dov Shellef of Great Neck, New York, and William Rubenstein of Colts Neck, New Jersey with fraud, money laundering, business and personal tax evasion was unsealed today. The defendants were arraigned this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle at the U.S. Courthouse in Central Islip, New York.
CFCs, which are used primarily as refrigerants and industrial solvents, are ozone depleting substances that are subject to strict regulations under the Clean Air Act because of the danger they present to the Earth's ozone layer. When released into the air, CFCs migrate into the upper atmosphere, where they destroy ozone, a naturally occurring gaseous compound that protects the earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation.
These chemicals are subject to an excise tax of several dollars per pound, imposed to discourage their use and to promote the transition to more ozone friendly replacement products.
During the period relevant to the indictment, Shellef controlled two businesses involved in the purchase and sale of CFC-113 - Poly Systems, Inc. and Polytuff USA, Inc. Shellef operated both businesses from an office in his home.
William Rubenstein controlled two businesses involved in the purchase, packaging, warehousing, shipping and sale of CFC-113 - Dunbar Sales, Inc. and Steven Industries, Inc., both of which operated out of the same warehouse facility.
The indictment alleges that the defendants purchased large quantities of CFC-113, representing to the manufacturers that they intended to export the product. Based on those representations, the manufacturers did not collect or pay any excise tax on the product, as these taxes are only charged on domestic distribution of CFC-113.
Knowing that they had purchased the CFC-113 tax free, the defendants still illegally diverted the product to a number of domestic customers, the indictment alleges.
Shellef is charged with money laundering for diverting over $700,000 in proceeds from the domestic sales of CFC-113 in 1999 into undisclosed bank accounts, and then wiring the money to personal bank accounts overseas.
If convicted on the conspiracy and fraud charges, Shellef and Rubenstein each face maximum sentences of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Shellef also faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted of the money laundering charges, and a fine of $500,000 or twice the property involved in the offenses. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture from Shellef of over $1 million of funds involved in the money laundering offenses.
In addition, false corporate tax return charges each carry maximum sentences of three years and fines of $250,000, and the personal income tax evasion charge carries a maximum sentence of five years and a fine of $250,000.
"There is a simple explanation for why the most harmful ozone depleting substances are banned from production and importation in our country - they are dangerous to the environment and seriously jeopardize our health," said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "Those who intentionally disobey the ban for profit will be brought to justice."
Sea Turtle Conservation Group to Manage Florida GrantsGAINESVILLE, Florida, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - The Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the world’s oldest nonprofit sea turtle protection group, has been appointed by Florida lawmakers to manage the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program.
Funded by a portion of revenues from Florida’s sea turtle specialty license plate, the grants program distributes over $300,000 each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education programs throughout Florida.
Florida state Senator Rod Smith and Representatives Dave Murzin and Stan Mayfield sponsored bills that transfer administrative responsibility for the grants program from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to the private CCC. The new law, which took affect July 1, received unanimous support in both chambers of the Florida legislature and was signed by Governor Jeb Bush.
CCC designed and sponsored the establishment of the sea turtle license plate in 1997 by presenting state lawmakers with over 10,000 petitions and a marketing plan for the new tag. The turtle tag is now one of the most popular specialty plates in Florida, raising over $1 million annually.
“Over 90 percent of all the sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place in Florida,” said CCC Executive Director David Godfrey. “We established the tag to provide a permanent funding source for turtle research and protection programs being conducted by State biologists and the many independent turtle protection groups working in Florida.”
All monies generated by the tag must by law go to support sea turtle protection in Florida. Three sea turtle species regularly nest on Florida beaches, and each is considered either endangered or threatened.
Seventy-percent of the funding goes to the FWCC’s Florida Marine Research Institute and the Bureau of Protected Species to support research and management activities related to sea turtles.
The remaining 30 percent of revenue now will be distributed to CCC, which will then redistribute the funding through a competitive grants program supporting turtle projects that benefit Florida sea turtles. With nearly $300,000 to distribute annually, the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program is one of the world’s largest sources of funding for sea turtle research and protection.
“The grants program provides a fair method of redistributing funds from the turtle tag back to the local level,” said Godfrey. “By privatizing the management of the program, CCC will be able to award grants faster and cheaper by streamlining the way grants are reviewed and managed.”
During the upcoming fiscal year, CCC will award 23 grants totaling about $275,000. Projects chosen for funding were selected in March by the Grant Selection Committee. The largest grant of $30,910 was awarded to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for research into the behavior and migration patterns of the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands.
All Weather Fuel Cell Vehicle in the WorksHARTFORD, Connecticut, July 2, 2003 (ENS) - Hyundai Motor Co. of Seoul, Korea, and UTC Fuel Cells of Hartford, have signed an agreement to jointly develop a new automotive fuel cell capable of operating in freezing conditions, one of the remaining hurdles in the development of fuel cells for automobiles.
The agreement calls for Hyundai and UTC Fuel Cells to work jointly to develop a freeze-capable fuel cell power plant and integrate it into a Hyundai sport utility vehicle platform.
Hyundai expects to place fuel cell vehicles into fleet applications beginning as early as 2004, with limited consumer availability planned for 2010.
Fuel cell power plants, which combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity without environmentally harmful emissions, produce and consume water. One key challenge in developing fuel cells for transportation applications is starting fuel cells after the water in a system has frozen.
"Hyundai is dedicated to developing commercially viable, zero-emission vehicles and our agreement with UTC Fuel Cells brings us one step closer to our goal," said Dong Jin Kim, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Company. "By 2004, Hyundai will be testing and evaluating the performance of fuel cell vehicles in fleet applications, allowing us to further refine the application of fuel cells for everyday transportation."
"Our work with Hyundai since 2000 has achieved tremendous results in demonstrating the viability of fuel cell vehicles and specifically the performance of UTC Fuel Cells' proprietary fuel cell design," said Jan van Dokkum, president of UTC Power.
UTC Fuel Cells and Hyundai have worked together on fuel cell vehicle development since 2000, when the companies unveiled the first Hyundai Santa Fe fuel cell SUV at the California Fuel Cell Partnership opening ceremonies. A total of six Hyundai fuel cell Santa Fe prototypes were produced under the previous agreement.
A Hyundai Santa Fe, powered by a UTC fuel cell, scored best in class in efficiency and noise at the 2001 Michelin Challenge Bibendum, an annual event where new automotive technologies are evaluated by independent judges.