AmeriScan: July 8, 2003

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India Asks U.S. To Extradite Former Union Carbide Chairman

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) and survivors organizations have prompted the Indian government to serve a longstanding notice to the U.S. government to extradite former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson.

Anderson is wanted in the Bhopal Court for his primary role in the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal that has claimed more than 20,000 lives to date.

"This long awaited move is a major step towards in our struggle for justice," said Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (Bhopal Gas-Affected Women Stationery Workers Association). "We will ensure that this is not just a token gesture."

Bee said her organization will continue to pressure the Indian government until Anderson and others responsible face trial in the ongoing criminal case, and ICJB says its network of U.S. supporters has already initiated moves to ensure that the U.S. government honors the extradition request.

"After all the talk about justice, it is now time for the U.S. government to walk the walk and get Anderson to face criminal trial in Bhopal," said Krishnaveni Gundu, ICJB's coordinator in the United States.

The request for Anderson's extradition has come after three years of intense pressure on the Indian government by survivors' organizations in Bhopal, their supporters worldwide and the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal.

During the early hours of December 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a storage tank at a Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing facility in Bhopal. As it escaped, the gas moved across adjacent communities killing thousands of people and injuring many thousands more. According to the Indian government, some 3,800 people died, but others estimate that as many as 8,000 people were killed by the gas.

Billed as the world's worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal tragedy injured 500,000 people. Survivors and their children are impoverished and continue to suffer drastic long term effects in the absence of economic rehabilitation measures and appropriate medical care.

According to the latest official estimates, 380 gas affected people succumb to health effects each year, and more than 20,000 are exposed to the toxic wastes lying in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal.

In 1992, the Bhopal court declared Warren Anderson a fugitive from justice, after he ignored a summons issued by the Bhopal court to appear in the criminal case.

Anderson and Union Carbide stand accused of manslaughter, grievous assault, poisoning and killing of animals and other serious offenses.

In February 2001, the Dow Chemical Company based in Midland, Michigan acquired Union Carbide as a 100 percent subsidiary. However, Dow has refused to accept Carbide's Bhopal liabilities.

In 2002, documents unearthed in the process of a class action suit against Anderson and Union Carbide in New York revealed that not only did Union Carbide knowingly export untested and hazardous technology to Bhopal, but also that this decision was authorized personally by Anderson.

"Criminal trial of corporate CEOs is not merely a necessary legal measure for justice in Bhopal," said Raj Sharma, the attorney representing the survivors in the class action suit. "It is an essential prerequisite for tackling the growing crisis of corporate crime."

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Critics Warn of Mercury in Clear Skies

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - Some 138 members of Congress and more than 100 physician, health, environmental and consumer groups have formally asked President George W. Bush to tighten mercury restrictions within his air pollution plan, known as "Clear Skies."

In a letter released Monday, 138 members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked Bush to make changes to his proposal "to ensure that [control of] mercury emissions are stronger, not weaker, than current law."

There is increasing concern about the health effects from mercury, in particular for pregnant women and children. Forty-three states currently have advisories in effect warning citizens to reduce or avoid fish consumption because of mercury contamination, compared to only 27 states in 1993 - a 60 percent increase in the past decade.

The primary health risk from mercury emerges when airborne mercury falls into surface waters where it can accumulate in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water transform mercury into methylmercury, which fish absorb when they eat aquatic organisms and humans absorb when they eat fish.

Scientists have shown that methylmercury can cause brain and nerve damage and studies indicate children and women of childbearing age are at a disproportionate risk.

The Clear Skies initiative sets a cap on mercury emissions from coal fired power plants, which are the nation's largest source of mercury emissions. But critics say the cap of 26 tons in 2010 and 15 tons through 2018 falls short of what could be obtained under existing law.

Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must issue "maximum achievable control technology" standards for coal fired power plants, with compliance by the end of 2007. In December 2001, EPA said these standards could reduce mercury emissions from power plants by some 90 percent, reducing the total to some five tons by 2007.

Administration officials and supporters of Clear Skies say the existing Clean Air Act would push cuts too fast and too soon, putting undue cost on industry before the emissions reductions technology is available.

The letter to the President sent today by the physician, health, environmental and consumer groups cites similar reasons to those put forth by the Congressional critics of Clear Skies.

"The so-called Clear Skies proposal would allow for more mercury pollution, not less," said Mercury Policy Project Director Michael Bender, who organized the letter to the President.

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Energy Department's Reclassification of Nuclear Waste Illegal

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - A federal district court judge ruled last week that the Department of Energy violated the law when it granted itself the authority to reclassify high-level nuclear waste so that it could abandon it at three nuclear weapons facilities.

Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the Energy Department "does not have discretion to dispose of defense [high-level waste] somewhere other than a repository established under [the Nuclear Waste Policy Act]."

The court agreed with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and its co-plaintiffs that the Energy Department is required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to bury of all of its high-level radioactive waste deep underground in a geologic repository.

"This ruling is a great victory for the environment and communities near high-level radioactive waste sites," said Geoffrey Fettus, staff attorney at NRDC who argued the case on behalf of NRDC, the Yakama Nation, the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and the Snake River Alliance.

"It is stunning that the Energy Department was trying to cut corners when dealing with a substance as dangerous as high-level nuclear waste," Fettus said. "It was prepared to create 'national sacrifice zones' at three sites, which would have posed a long term threat to public health."

In February 2002, NRDC argued that the Energy Department's decision to reclassify high-level nuclear waste as "incidental waste," violated federal law and would allow the agency to use a substantially less protective standard of cleanup for some 100 million gallons of the nation's most highly radioactive waste.

Most of the waste of concern is located in underground tanks at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory near Idaho Falls, and the Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina.

The NRDC says that several tanks in Washington and South Carolina are leaking.

"This case is the most egregious of several ongoing efforts by the Department of Energy and the nuclear industry to 'solve' their nuclear waste problems by relaxing regulatory standards instead of cleaning up their mess," said Dr. Thomas Cochran, a physicist and director of NRDC's Nuclear Program.

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Court Rejects Cheney Request to Throw Out Energy Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - Vice President Dick Cheney must respond to discovery requests by plaintiffs in a lawsuit that aims to determine the role and influence of the energy industry in a Bush administration energy task force, according to a ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Bush administration had asked the court to throw out a lower court ruling that the vice president was required to produce information concerning into the identities of task force participants, how it operated, and the role of the vice president in the task force.

The court wrote that it "has no authority to 'extend' the law beyond its well prescribed bounds."

In affirming the lower court's ruling, the Appeals Court ruled that the Bush administration was asking it to transform "executive privilege from a doctrine designed to protect presidential communications into virtual immunity from suit."

"The court has affirmed that the vice president is not above the law," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "This ruling is a legal blow to the Bush administration's arrogant view of executive branch power. We look forward to finally gaining access to the inner workings of the energy task force."

The lawsuit was filed by Judicial Watch in 2001 under the open meetings law after it was rebuffed in its requests for information about the task force. Several months later, the energy task force also was sued by the Sierra Club, which is now a co-plaintiff in Judicial Watch's lawsuit

Both groups believe industry representatives were in essence members of the task force even though the administration contends that only government officials were members of the policy group.

Today's ruling stated that "focused" discovery can proceed into whether non-federal employees participated in the energy task force, as alleged by Judicial Watch.

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Massachusetts Vehicle Emissions Testing Under Fire

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - Massachusetts is failing to properly test vehicle emissions and state officials have been actively covering up the problem for more than two years, according to state documents obtained and released by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER).

The yearly emissions tests first took effect in Massachusetts in 1999, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the state to reduce its high levels of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide in the air. Massachusetts chose to design its own system, rather than use tests recommended by the EPA.

Email exchanges between officials at the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the California based contracting firm Sierra Research, Inc. show that more than half of the cars that failed the Massachusetts emissions test actually passed a similar test that is sanctioned by the EPA and used in most states.

Sierra Research officials warned DEP in a May 16, 2001 email that the rate of false failures represents "the highest by far ever seen" by the company.

A separate investigation, performed by the Massachusetts Inspector General's Office in 2002, found similar results. Despite warnings from these experts, DEP managers continue to administer the faulty test and did not inform the EPA of the problems with the test.

"Rather than deal with an expensive, embarrassing problem, the DEP decided it would be easier to cook the books," commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and former EPA enforcement specialist. "Only a full scale investigation and the termination of responsible parties will begin to restore the public's trust in the program."

PEER is asking Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to extend a pledge of non-retaliation against DEP employees who come forward with information about the test flaws and subsequent agency coverup.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Doubles in Size

KAHUKU, Hawaii, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy have jointly purchased the 116,000 acre Kahuku Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii for addition to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The $22 million purchase, which was closed last week, increases the size of the 217,000 acre park by 50 percent, and is the largest land conservation transaction in Hawaii's history.

"This property is home to dozens of rare and endangered plant and bird species found nowhere else on Earth," said Steve McCormick, president of The Nature Conservancy. "It is truly one of Hawaii's last great places."

The federal government has secured $16 million of the funding needed to buy the ranch, which consists of lava flows, forests containing koa and ohi'a trees, ancient Hawaiian archeological sites, and pasture land.

The Nature Conservancy provided bridge financing for the remaining $6 million. Once Congress appropriates that additional funding, the Conservancy will be reimbursed and transfer the remainder of the ranch to the National Park Service.

"Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has held a long and abiding interest in adding portions of Kahuku Ranch to the Park since 1938, and it has been the number one land acquisition priority for the entire National Park Service since 2001," said Jim Martin, superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. "I have worked for the National Park Service for 40 years and I have seen magnificent areas throughout the world. Kahuku Ranch has world class qualities - tremendous resources, tremendous beauty, and tremendous value to global biodiversity."

Kahuku Ranch runs along the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano from about 2,000 feet to 13,000 feet in elevation.

Martin explained that the property encompasses spectacular and diverse native ecosystems, from montane mesic forest and shrubland, to dry forest and shrubland, to the subalpine and alpine communities above 6,500 feet. Placing the ranch within the national park will allow the Park Service to manage the threat of non-native mammals such as wild cattle, pigs and mouflon sheep, as well as invasive weeds and wildland fire.

"Adding Kahuku Ranch to the park will enable visitors from around the world to experience the natural, cultural, and historic treasures unique to this very special place," Martin said. "We look forward to engaging the public in a planning process to facilitate the opening of this area in a manner that will preserve the resources while providing for visitor use and enjoyment."

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Coalition Purchases 33,000 Acres of Texas Forest

AUSTIN, Texas, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - The Conservation Fund has joined forces with private forest investment firm Renewable Resources, LLC, to acquire some 33,000 acres of working Texas forestland from International Paper.

The organizations say their strategy for acquisition and conservation will allow continued economic benefits through sustainable forestry while permanently protecting the land and helping combat the high rate of forestland fragmentation.

"With millions of acres of important forestland coming on the market and increasing pressure from a growing population, Texas and the nation as a whole, is at a crossroads," said Larry Selzer, president of The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization. "Thanks to the leadership of International Paper and Renewable Resources, we are creating solutions that maintain economic stability and at the same time, address the issues of loss of open space and habitat connectivity in east Texas."

The Conservation Fund worked with a group of partners including Renewable Resources, Houston Endowment, The Meadows Foundation, and the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to raise the funds necessary to acquire the Middle Neches tract, valued at more than $26 million.

The property, located along the Neches River, near Lufkin, Texas, connects Davy Crockett and Angelina National Forests and is considered by conservationists and members of the forestry sector to be of high value for both wood production and wildlife habitat.

"The Middle Neches River site is one of the most important acquisition projects to be accomplished in recent years, said Jim Neal, West Gulf Coastal Plain Initiative coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It is crucial to the long term survival of a nationally significant, threatened river system."

As part of the agreement with Renewable Resources, the forestland will be managed in a sustainable fashion and maintained as a natural hardwood forest until the property can be turned over to public ownership. Forestry operations will meet or exceed all requirements of the American Forest & Paper Association's Sustainable Forestry Initiative program and all Texas Best Management Practices for forestlands to ensure protection of critical habitat including imperiled aquatic resources.

"The Middle Neches tract contains some of the highest quality forestlands in the south," said Bob Saul of Renewable Resources. "Sustainable forestry ensures the land will continue to provide lasting benefits to our investors, the local community and the environment."

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It Takes Guts to Migrate

KINGSTON, Rhode Island, July 8, 2003 (ENS) - It is well known that it takes strong flight muscles and a keen sense of direction for birds to migrate long distances to and from their breeding grounds. It also takes guts, according to University of Rhode Island researcher and physiological ecologist Scott McWilliams.

Studies completed by McWilliams have shown that birds have a flexible digestive system that they modify to meet the changing energy demands of migration.

"The gut of a migratory bird is a really dynamic organ," McWilliams said. "In preparation for migration, the gut increases in size tremendously over several days,"

"It expands, its cells get larger and it produces new cells so the bird can dramatically increase its food intake and store up energy for the long flight," the Rhode Island researcher explained.

And because the digestive system is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body and it consumes a great deal of energy, McWilliams said, it shuts down during migration so more energy can be diverted to fueling flight.

This affects birds when they stop to feed at sites along their migration route. As their digestive system is shut down, the birds must eat less until their gut becomes acclimated and can operate efficiently again.

"We have known for many years that birds recovering from a migration flight do not immediately regain body mass, but we didn't know why," McWilliams said. "Now it is clear that this digestive constraint is responsible for the delay and likely affects the pace of a bird's migration."

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and with logistical support provided by The Nature Conservancy, McWilliams' field studies have involved both free and captive birds, mostly white-throated sparrows, red-eyed vireos and yellow-rumped warblers.

The research offers a new understanding of the protein requirements of migratory birds and this need for protein may have a significant impact on habitat management at key migratory stopover sites.

"To build their digestive tract, birds need foods available in the environment that have sufficient protein," McWilliams said. "When birds feed only on fruits that are high in fat and low in protein, they may have to delay their migration. To help birds ensure a successful migration, we need to ensure, for example, that shrubs along their migratory routes have fruits with higher protein amounts."

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