AmeriScan: July 9, 2003

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EPA's Criminal Enforcement Chief Ousted

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) criminal program has been transferred to a subordinate position, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a memo dated July 7, EPA's Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance J.P. Suarez wrote that D'Amico has been made the director of the EPA's National Enforcement Training Institute. An EPA employee since 1993, D'Amico served as the Director of the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training from 1999 until July 6.

Suarez' memo cited a personal request for a move, but D'Amico has been transferred to a subordinate position at the same grade level that is currently filled.

EPA criminal investigators and attorneys criticized D'Amico's management, according to a PEER survey released this spring, citing misuse of funds, rampant cronyism and pervasive fear of retaliation.

PEER's survey found that nearly three of every four respondents said that EPA's criminal program is not "headed in the right direction" and more than four of every five employees did not think the agency's criminal program "is being well managed."

Criminal enforcement by EPA has declined under the Bush administration, with new referrals for federal prosecution falling by more than 40 percent.

Critics say the administration is not serious about enforcing pollution laws and has starved the enforcement division of much needed funding, in particular as agents are often pulled away for homeland security operations.

"Leo D'Amico is merely a fall guy for agency political leadership unwilling to commit to consistent enforcement against corporate polluters," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The issue of plummeting pollution enforcement should be front and center in confirmation hearings for the next EPA Administrator."

PEER says agency employees told the organization that D'Amico's removal is part of a larger restructuring of EPA's criminal program, including a management review and possible closure of field offices.

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Trans Fat Labeling Mandated

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced a final rule requiring food manufacturers to list trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels. Companies will have until 2006 to phase in the labels listing the amount of trans fat, most of which comes from the partially hydrogenated oils used to make French fries, crackers, margarine, cookies, pastries, and other processed foods.

Last year the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that trans fat is about as harmful as saturated fat.

The new labeling reflects scientific evidence showing that consumption of trans fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

Nearly 13 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, and more than 500,000 die each year from causes related to coronary heart disease. The FDA estimated Wednesday that the labeling could prevent up to 1,200 cases of heart disease and 500 deaths a year.

"We are empowering Americans to make healthier choices about the foods they eat," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "By putting trans fat information on food labels, we are making it possible for consumers to make better educated choices to lower their intake of these unhealthy fats and cholesterol."

The new information is the first significant change on the Nutrition Facts panel since it was established in 1993.

Health advocates applauded the agency's decision, although some believe the FDA could have gone further. For example, the labels do not require the amount of trans fat to be placed into the context of a day's diet.

"The new labels will let consumers compare trans fat content from product to product, and that will be a great step forward," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It will be hard, though, for people to tell if a given number of grams of trans fat is a lot or a little. Five grams may not seem like a lot, but it is."

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Whistleblower Reinstated as Yellowstone Ranger

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - Yellowstone National Park's longest serving backcountry ranger, Bob "Action" Jackson" has reached agreement with the National Park Service that allows him to return to his job. Jackson was allegedly not rehired for criticizing the agency's laxness in enforcing wilderness rules, in particular the practice of hunting outfitters using salt to lure elk out of the park.

The elk are protected in the park and Jackson found that hunters were luring the animals out of the park, shooting them, taking the antlers and leaving the carcasses to rot. The resulting large numbers of elk carcasses at salt baits attract grizzly bears looking for a pre-hibernation meal. This in turn caused an increase in bear-hunter interactions, often ending with bears being shot.

In April 2003, the National Park Service informed Jackson that he would not be hired for the coming summer. According to a whistleblower complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the decision not to rehire Jackson was in retaliation for his well publicized criticisms.

The agreement of Jackson's return is confidential. He has spent some 30 years as a backcountry ranger at Yellowstone and has become well known for high profile poaching arrests and exposing the problem of salt baiting for elk.

In an April letter to Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Senator Charles Grassley - an Iowa Republican - questioned the treatment of Iowa native Jackson.

"Officials at Yellowstone, the Park Service and even the Interior Department itself have made an effort - in public and private - to discredit and insult Ranger Jackson in both his official and personal capacities," Grassley wrote.

In 2001, PEER filed a whistleblower complaint on Jackson's behalf, after he was given an order not to speak publicly about Park Service issues.

In response to that complaint, the Park Service rescinded the gag order, scheduled First Amendment training for its managers, deleted all derogatory information in Jackson's record and rehired him for the 2003 season.

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Controlling Wildlife Markets Key to Curbing Diseases

NEW YORK, New York, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - One way to reduce the risks of future diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is to control wildlife markets, according to a consortium of scientists from the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Markets selling wild animals for their meat not only threaten wildlife populations, the scientists say, but also present a grave threat to humans.

The SARS outbreak earlier this year is suspected to be linked to consumption of wildlife meat in China. Other possible cases of human illnesses stemming from wild animals include bushmeat and Ebola outbreaks in Africa, West Nile virus and monkeypox. In addition, the primate origins of HIV point to another link between wildlife and human disease.

The scientists warn that in today's global marketplace, wildlife is just another commodity, and wild animals destined for food markets and for the pet trade are often transported over enormous distances.

For example, animals found in markets in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China include soft-shelled turtles captured in Sumatra some 1,900 miles away, Vietnam pangolins from 930 miles away as well as red-eared sliders from the U.S. state of Florida, which is 9,000 miles away.

This global movement of wildlife, the scientists say, results in a dangerous integration of circumstances, with animals and consumers from different ecosystems coming into contact. Humans and animals lacking resistance to new pathogens afford viruses and bacteria a good environment for mutation and with animals and people increasingly in contact the odds of a disease spillover have drastically increased.

The WCS says that this creates two problems: the high risk of new diseases spreading into human populations and a "fear factor" amongst people - their concern that wildlife is unhealthy might cause them to try to remove the threat by killing the wildlife.

These eradication schemes can do more harm than good, the scientists say, and it would be wiser to focus on reducing the wildlife trade.

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Three James River Ghost Ships to Be Removed

FORT EUSTIS, Virginia, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - Head of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) announced Monday a contract award of $2.2 million for the disposal of three high priority obsolete ships from the James River Reserve Fleet, the so-called Ghost Fleet.

William Schubert, MARAD administrator, made the announcement at a special on-site hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee convened by Virginia Senator George Allen, a Republican, to hear comments from people in the Hampton Roads area on the future of the James River Ghost Fleet.

The meeting of local, state and federal officials was held at the Fort Eustis Transportation Museum, not far from where the 97 idle ships of the Ghost Fleet float in the James River. The Ghost Fleet was originally created in 1925 to hold government ships that might be used again in time of national crisis.

The reserve ships contain contaminants such as asbestos, mercury, PCBs, lead paint, and a total of 7.7 million gallons of oil and fuel. A federal study found that if only two of the ships began leaking, they could endanger 50 miles of James River shoreline. There have been nine fuel spills from the ships in the past three years.

“The aging Ghost Fleet is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Allen. “If a major storm or leak were to happen, it would have a devastating impact on the environment and jeopardize many jobs that rely on commerce, tourism and fishing that are closely tied to the health of the James River."

ESCO Marine of Brownsville, Texas was awarded the contract to dispose of the three ships, which range from 36 to 58 years old. They will be towed to Texas in the next two weeks, Schubert said.

"This issue has been an intense focus during my tenure," said Schubert. He acknowledged the possible risk the ships pose to the environment, saying, "Eliminating the risk to the environment by removing obsolete ships is what the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration intend to achieve."

"The award of this contract is welcome progress," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. "Working in cooperation with Congress has provided us with the program flexibility needed to remove ships from the James River Reserve Fleet in an expeditious and cost effective manner."

There are 130 obsolete vessels located in three fleet sites of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. In fiscal year 2003, Congress appropriated $31 million dollars for ship disposal.

In all, 21 high priority vessels could go to foreign and domestic shipyards for disposal this year, Schubert said.

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Nuclear Fuel Services Approved for Use of Uranium

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved a license amendment to allow Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS) to possess and use special nuclear material at its newly constructed uranyl nitrate building in Erwin, Tennessee. Special nuclear material refers to plutonium, uranium-233, or uranium enriched in the isotopes uranium-233 or uranium-235.

The amendment, issued Monday, is the first of three NFS has proposed as part of its Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) project. The project is part of a U.S. Department of Energy program to reduce stockpiles of surplus high-enriched uranium through reuse or disposal as radioactive waste.

NFS currently manufactures high-enriched nuclear reactor fuel and is constructing a new complex at the Erwin site to manufacture low-enriched nuclear reactor fuel.

The license amendment approval allows NFS to begin receiving down-blended, low-enriched uranium from the Savannah River Site complex in South Carolina for eventual use in the BLEU project. The amendment also increases the amount of uranium-235 NFS is allowed to possess.

On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a confirmatory order noting that NFS has agreed to implement security enhancements required by the commission earlier this year for similar fuel cycle facilities. Implementation of the security measures was verified by an NRC inspection team in June.

A second amendment application, for the blended, low-enriched uranium preparation facility, was submitted in October 2002 and is currently under NRC review. The company has not yet formally applied for the third license amendment, which will be for the oxide conversion facility. Together, the three amendments make up the BLEU project.

The NRC issued the approval over the objections of Friends of the Nolichucky River Valley, the State of Franklin Group of the Sierra Club, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, and the Tennessee Environmental Council.

On April 29, the NRC turned down an emergency request to halt NFS' construction of any buildings intended for use as part the BLEU project.

The environmental groups argued that NFS's construction is proceeding before the NRC staff has complied with the National Environmental Policy Act by completing its environmental review and determining whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required for the proposed BLEU project."

To allow construction to go forward, the groups claimed, "will influence the NRC's decisionmaking process regarding the proposed BLEU Project, by committing resouces to a pre-ordained course of action before the agency has decided whether to prepare an EIS that evaluates the impacts of that course of action or reasonable alternatives."

They said the NRC should prepare an EIS for the entire BLEU project because it will have "significant adverse impacts on the environment."

In response, NFS claims that the staff's Environmental Assessment (EA) already examined the impacts of the "entire BLEU project."

But the NRC said the company "apparently continues to take issue with the staff's characterization of the scope and completeness of the issued EA, and likewise of the extent of the environmental reviews which will be conducted for the second and third [license] amendments. This is a matter we do not resolve today."

While the company will require license amendments before it can begin the process operations associated with the BLEU Project and before it can exceed its current U-235 possession limit, it does not appear to require any NRC permit to begin construction activities, thus "rendering uncertain our current authority to halt those actions," the commission ruled.

The construction activities do not pre-ordain or restrict the NRC's decisionmaking, the commission ruled, saying that the staff retains "full discretion" to deny any or all of the three license amendments, or to impose licensing conditions, as needed.

Even if the commission's power to halt NFS's construction activities were clearer, petitioners have given no reason to take emergency action, the NRC ruled, because they did not indicate how they might suffer immediate environmental harm as a result of new building construction within the boundaries of the company's existing site.

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Crews Struggle to Contain Western Wildfires

BOISE, Idaho, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The Aspen fire burning on Mt. Lemmon in Coronado National Forest about 20 miles north of Tucson, Arizona has blackened 83,000 acres, and fire officials say it is 75 percent contained today. Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise believe the fire was started by human activity, and an investigation is underway.

Recent humidity has caused the fire to slow during the last few days, but it is still burning in ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, and oak woodland and chaparral.

Three hotshot crews, aided by some 400,000 gallons of aerial retardant and water drops, constructed fire lines in Montrose Canyon and east of Ventana Canyon, where fire behavior was most active on Tuesday.

More than 850 people are working to control the fire, but poor access and steep, rugged terrain, and near record temperatures are hampering containment efforts.

Officials say fire and heavy smoke will become more visible as the Aspen Fire moves west towards the Catalina State Park area which was closed Tuesday to ensure public safety. The area is being used for helicopter operations.

The Coronado National Forest has implemented an emergency closure of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and Visitor Center. This includes the entire Santa Catalina Ranger District, except for the Happy Valley area on the east side of the Rincon Mountains. All roads and trails, within and leading into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, are closed.

Since the fire was started on June 17, it has destroyed 333 structures; it has cost $13.2 million to fight so far.

In New Mexico, a fire started by lightning on July 4 half a mile from the Taos Pueblo in the Blue Lake Wilderness area has moved into the Pueblo Grant Area. Known as the Encebado Fire, it has charred 3,950 acres and is just five percent contained.

The fire is burning in ponderosa pine, aspen, mixed conifer forest types and piñon/juniper woodlands ranging in elevation from 7,500 to 9,200 feet. Extreme smoke conditions have made it impossible for aircraft to drop retardant and water.

Residences in Taos Canyon are potentially threatened, but no evacuations have been ordered yet. Structure protection is in place for 200 residences. Taos Pueblo, including the Taos Pueblo Casino, is closed to the public.

In New Mexico, Dry Lakes Complex of five fires in the Gila National Forest 27 miles northwest of Silver City has burned 68,450 acres and is not yet contained. Fire crews are constructing a fireline for possible mitigation actions between the Dry Lake Fire and the ancient Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Rattlesnake Canyon (BIA Colville Agency): 9,000 acres at 35 percent contained. This fire is 23 miles southeast of Keller. Extreme fire behavior was observed yesterday. Seven structures are threatened on the east side of the fire and structure protection is in place.

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West Virginia Wind Farm to Power DC Area

WASHINGTON, DC, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The largest wind farm east of the Mississippi River was dedicated today at the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center on Backbone Mountain in the Thomas/Parsons area of Tucker County, West Virginia.

The 66 megawatt Mountaineer Wind Energy Center features 44 NEG Micon wind turbines that stand about 228 feet tall with 100 foot blades. The facility produces enough electricity to power 22,000 average homes.

FPL Energy owns the facility and operates it under a 20 year wholesale power agreement with Exelon Corporation. Washington Gas Energy Services, under a marketing agreement with Community Energy, Inc., makes wind power from the new wind facility available to its customers.

About 10,000 residential and commercial customers in the Washington, DC region are purchasing some or all of their electricity from the new wind facility. Customers include the U.S. Army, American University, Catholic University, the National Geographic Society, the Fairmont Hotel, the Bullis School and Ecoprint.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is purchasing wind energy for part of the power needed for its Washington, DC headquarters. "Wind power is an important part of the solution to global warming," said Katherine Silverthorne, director of World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change Program. "Wind power from West Virginia can help WWF and others in our nation's capital take part in the transition to a clean energy future."

Austin Grill has signed up to purchase 100 percent wind energy at all of its restaurants in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. Austin Grill Chief Operating Officer Chris Patterson said, "Austin Grill's decision to support and promote wind energy is a serious step for cleaner air in and around the nation's capital. It is an important and necessary investment. We hope our 100 percent commitment to clean energy will inspire residents and local businesses to follow our lead."

Compared to the average electric generation in the mid-Atlantic region, the wind project will offset approximately 200 million pounds of air pollution annually. This is the carbon dioxide equivalent of planting over 14 million trees or taking 14,000 cars off the road.

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Sea World Orlando Accreditation Under Fire

MALIBU, California, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has officially requested that the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) withdraw accreditation from Sea World's facility in Orlando, Florida.

The request was triggered by Sea World Orlando's sale of six young sea lions to the U.S. Navy for use in operations such as detecting terrorist activity and underwater mines.

The Navy issued its “sole-source” notice of intent to “procure” the pups on May 15.

They will replace six older California sea lions set for retirement at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.

Dependable and sophisticated tracking equipment, which does not call for the undue stress and potential death of animals, already exists, the marine mammal protection organization says.

"Human beings have no right to draft and enlist non-human species for service in the violent internecine wars of humanity," the Sea Shepherd said Tuesday.

Other animal advocacy groups, including In Defense of Animals (IDA), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Earth Island Institute (EII), vowed to stop the amusement park’s sale of baby marine mammals, but they were not able to do so.

“Sea World is a company that markets itself as a public education, conservation and animal rescue organization,” said Suzanne Roy, IDA program director. “Its plan to sell off six sea lion pups to be cruelly trained and deployed in warfare lays bare the corporation’s true motives – maximizing profits on the backs of the marine animals held at Sea World parks."

“As a U.S. Army veteran, I am sorely disappointed at the military’s lack of respect for marine mammals and their sea environment,” said AWI research analyst Christopher Heyde. “I fully support the need to protect our ports and ships, but the best way to do that is through diligence and existing technologies."

Sea World's profitable transaction with the Navy violates the AZA's policy for the sale and transfer of animals, the Sea Shepherd points out. AZA regulations stipulate that when member institutions sell or transfer animals, "It is imperative that the member be confident that the animal will be cared for properly."

The Sea Shepherd does not believe that "drafting unwilling animals into dangerous combat zones qualifies as proper care."

AZA policy states "all additions and removals are compatible with the Association's stated commitment to 'save and protect the wonders of the living natural world.'"

With regard to the sale or transfer of animals to a non-accredited facility, the AZA requires the facility to be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Navy is a non-accredited facility that does not possess a USDA license.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is asking the concerned public to contact the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and urge them to withdraw accreditation for Sea World Orlando.

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