President Names Acting EPA LeadersWASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today announced two current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials to serve as Acting Administrator and Acting Deputy Administrator for the agency.
She succeeds Linda Fisher, the former deputy administrator, who is leaving the agency this Friday. Fisher took the agency reins from former Administrator Christie Whitman, who resigned last month.
Stephen Johnson, who currently serves as assistant administrator of the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, will serve as the agency's acting deputy administrator.
"I have been privileged to work with both of these individuals during their distinguished tenures at EPA," said Fisher. "As a team, Marianne Horinko and Steve Johnson will provide dedicated leadership for the agency in the coming months."
Prior to joining the EPA in 2001 as a Bush administration appointee, Horinko was the former president of Clay Associates, Inc., a public policy firm devoted to hazardous waste issues. From 1989 to 1993, Horinko served as an attorney advisor to Don Clay, the EPA's assistant administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
Horinko received credit from the administration for her efforts in assisting in the environmental cleanup resulting from the September 11 attacks, as well as the U.S. Capitol's anthrax contamination.
In her statement, Fisher added that Horinko has "also proven her leadership in overseeing EPA's response to the Columbia Space Shuttle Disaster."
Johnson has been with the agency for 20 years and has served in a variety of roles within the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs.
Fisher said that Johnson's two decades at the agency have afforded him "a vast understanding of the EPA and immense respect for its employees."
The administration has given no indication when it plans to nominate permanent replacements for either Whitman or Fisher.
Enviros Decry Confirmation of Federal Claims JudgeWASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - Environmental groups worry that Wednesday's confirmation of Victor Wolski to a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims does not bode well for the environmental protections. The Senate confirmed Wolski, a Washington attorney, by a largely partisan vote of 54 to 43.
Three other nominees were confirmed to the court, which some argue does not need more judges. The Court of Federal Claims decides nearly all property rights "takings" challenges to national environmental and other protections.
Critics of Wolski note that he is a self described libertarian ideologue. They fear that he will use his position on the court to promote the position that the "property rights" of corporations outweigh the need for common sense environmental, public health, and other fundamental safeguards.
In 1999, Wolski told the "National Journal" that "every single job [he has] taken since college has been ideologically oriented, trying to further [his] principles."
"The fact that Victor Wolski is a self proclaimed ideologue on the very issues he would decide as a judge makes him uniquely unqualified to decide fairly whether taxpayers must pay corporations to comply with health, safety, environmental, and other safeguards," said Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law firm.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Wolski's rigid ideology is apparently the only reason he was nominated," Sugameli said.
None of the 54 senators who voted for Wolski spoke in favor of his confirmation on the Senate floor, despite New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer twice rising to speak against confirming this nominee.
"Apparently, even supporters were embarrassed by Mr. Wolski's extreme self proclaimed libertarian ideology on the critical property rights issues he will decide on this important court," said Sugameli.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the majority vote apparently reflects either ignorance of Mr. Wolski's record or a willingness to ignore senators' constitutional advise and consent duty to exercise independent judgment on lifetime judicial nominees."
First West Nile Virus Test Cleared for UseWASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the first test for use as an aid in the clinical laboratory diagnosis of West Nile virus infection. It is expected the test will help doctors diagnose patients who have the clinical symptoms consistent with viral encephalitis/meningitis.
"Emerging infectious diseases such as West Nile virus present a challenge to the public health community," said Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services. "When industry and government collaborate closely to meet a public health need, the resulting new technology will strengthen our joint efforts to confront diseases earlier and should lower rates of infection."
The test is manufactured by PanBio, an Australian company with U.S. operations in Maryland, and should soon be available to labs for $6.50.
The new test works by detecting the levels of a particular type of antibody, IgM, to the disease in a patient's serum. IgM antibodies can be detected within the first few days of the onset of illness and can assist in the diagnosis of these patients.
The FDA's review found that the test correctly identified the antibody in up to 90 percent to 99 percent of West Nile virus cases. The agency cautions, however, that this test is considered presumptive and should be confirmed by more specific testing.
West Nile virus is a mosquito borne virus which first appeared in the United States in 1999. The disease is most prevalent during the peak mosquito season which begins in July and ends in October.
Last year more than 4,000 West Nile virus cases were reported with the virus reaching 44 states. Only two cases have been reported this year - one in South Carolina and one in Texas.
While the virus often appears as a mild infection that clears up without further treatment, some patients develop severe infection resulting in neurological disease and even death.
Florida Law Limiting Citizens' Right to Dispute ChallengedTALLAHASSEE, Florida, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - Attorneys for the nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice opened their case today on behalf of two Florida groups who are challenging a Florida law that restricts the rights of ordinary citizens to dispute government decisions that affect the environment.
The bill at issue passed in the final hours of the last legislative session, after being cobbled together with an unrelated bill that was likely to pass.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Manasota 88, claims that the law violates the Florida Constitution because it deals with two unrelated topics.
"This law seeks specifically to favor the interests of large corporations over the ordinary Floridian," said David Guest of Earthjustice. "All citizens have the right to question their government, and we don't intend to let an unconstitutional law take that right away."
After repeated attempts to get the bill, Senate Bill 270, passed in previous sessions, sponsor state Senator Jim King attached it to an Everglades restoration bill that was widely supported. The package was signed into law in May 2002.
The Florida Constitution forbids laws that contain more than one subject. According to the groups' complaint, this rule is intended to protect the public from just this sort of cobbling together of bills that lack support of their own with more popular measures.
"The political connivery used here was completely illegal," said Guest. "And the law signed as a result has very dangerous implications for the future of environmental protection in Florida."
The provisions in question limit citizen standing to sue over permits for activities that could affect the environment. To bring a challenge under the new law, citizens have to file suit as incorporated groups of 25 or more in an affected county or as intervenors in already active cases.
The permits affected by the law include those for activities like offshore oil drilling. Earthjustice used the citizen intervention provision five years ago on behalf of Florida Wildlife Federation and other environmental organizations to prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection from granting a permit for offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida. The Department had attempted to issue the permit.
Guest, who handled the successful permit challenge, said that if the proposed amendments had been in effect then, there would be offshore drilling in Florida's coastal waters today.
"Citizens were the only ones arguing to protect Florida's coastal waters from drilling," said Guest. "Stripping citizens of their right to challenge permits that authorize environmentally destructive activities turns the fight to protect the environment into a one sided debate."
City Pollution Tougher on Rural TreesITHACA, New York, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have found that trees in New York City grow twice as well as counterparts grown some 50 miles from the city.
"I know this sounds counterintuitive but it is true," says Jillian Gregg, lead author of the study. City grown pollution - and ozone in particular - is tougher on country trees."
Gregg's findings were published today in the journal "Nature." As a graduate student at Cornell, Gregg began planting identical clones of cottonwood trees in and around New York City.
Test sites included the New York Botanical Garden and the Hunts Point water works in the Bronx; a Consolidated Edison fuel depot in Astoria, Queens; as well as Long Island's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton; Eisenhower Park in Hempstead; and the Cornell Horticultural Research Laboratory in Riverhead.
About 50 miles north of Manhattan, in the Hudson River valley, Gregg planted cottonwood clones at the Millbrook institute.
The study aimed to show the impact on plants of a tough life in the city, where a variety of gaseous, particulate and photochemical pollutants resulting from fossil fuel combustion bombard plants as they struggle to grow in soils laden with heavy metals.
For three consecutive growing seasons Gregg returned to the sites to plant cottonwoods, harvesting them to weigh their biomass and to perform other kinds of analyses. She controlled for differences in light, precipitation, season length and soil factors, making air quality the primary factor of concern.
Gregg and her colleagues at Cornell and the Institute of Ecosystem Studies determined that the rural trees did not grow as fast because of higher sustained levels of ozone that originated in the city.
"Ozone is what we call a secondary pollutant," Gregg explained. "So while the primary precursors for ozone are emitted in the city, they must act in the presence of sunlight, over time, before ozone is formed. By then, the air mass has moved to rural environments."
New Generation of Treetop Scientists Needs CranesDURHAM, New Hampshire, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - A few dedicated scientists have built platforms high in forest canopies to study the interactions between Earth's biosphere and atmosphere, but more scientific study of this inaccessible and threatened region is needed, according to a report published in the July 11 issue of the journal "Science."
Ninety percent of the globe's terrestrial biomass undergoes direct exchange with the atmosphere in forest canopies, and there up to half of all animal species make their homes.
"To understand the biological processes that regulate the atmosphere-biosphere exchange, we need to understand forest canopy processes. And in order to understand those processes we've got to be able to get to them," says Michael Keller of the U.S. Forest Service.
Keller, who works at the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), co-authored the report and has spent time dangling in a big basket loaded with scientific gear in the forest canopies of Panama.
"Given the significance of the canopy and the fact that it is fragmenting faster than any other habitat, we ignore it at our peril," he wrote.
There is a need to increase access to the canopy so scientists can better understand its role in global ecosystems, atmospheric chemistry and climate change, the study declares. New technologies like cranes, cat walks and bucket trucks now provide scientists with the ability to penetrate this world.
Just as the invention of the aqualung helped unlock the secrets of the ocean, these technologies have opened up a window onto the world at the tops of trees. The canopy, Keller says, "is where the action is."
The leaves atop the trees get direct sunlight and exchange water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases. Above and inside this world, scientists can make direct measurements of what happens when, for example, higher than usual amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide exist at the leaf level.
"With a crane you can pick apart the effects of all the different processes and players," Keller says.
One important aspect of forests and forest canopies is their role in providing a habitat for pollinators like bees, Keller says. In many areas, as forests are fragmented or removed, pollinators disappear as well.Then for vast industrialized agricultural areas, bees must be imported to pollinate crops.
"We're losing this pollination service that used to be free," Keller warns. "Without pollinators there are no fruits. Forests can stop reproducing when there are no pollinators. It's quite shocking," he says.
Pacific Fisher Could Be Listed as EndangeredTUCSON, Arizona, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a positive 90 day finding on a petition filed by the groups to list the Pacific fisher as an endangered species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will now begin a one year review of the rare carnivore to determine if endangered status is warranted. A stocky, dark brown weasel with a long bushy tail, the Pacific fisher nests in rotting logs or tree cavities. Its diet includes mammals such as shrews, squirrels, hares, muskrat, porcupine and beaver, birds, carrion and fruit.
In California, the fisher is reduced to two small populations - one in the southern Sierra Nevada and one in northwestern California.
Endangered status for the fisher requires protection for old growth forests, benefiting the entire ecosystem, the environmental group say.
A listing of the fisher as endangered might also provide additional funding for research and boost efforts to reintroduce the fisher into parts of its range where it no longer occurs, such as Oregon and Washington. But if the service declines to list the fisher, the species likely will not survive, the environmental groups say.
"Without immediate protection from continued logging on private and federal lands, the fisher will go extinct," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Bush administration has recently announced plans to weaken protections for old growth forests in the Sierra Nevada region, which were enacted in during the Clinton administration under a plan called the Framework. The amount of logging under the Framework will now be allowed to double.
In addition, Bush administration officials have weakened protections in the Pacific Northwest developed under the Clinton era Northwest Forest Plan.
"By placing resource extraction over conservation, Bush is setting forest management back 30 years," said Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. "His policies ignore science and are a recipe for gridlock in forest management."
Greg Loarie, an Earthjustice attorney who represented the groups on the suit to force the service's decision, said preservation of old growth forests offers many benefits to society in addition to fisher conservation. "These benefits range from the clean water provided by intact forests to the potential discovery of new medicines derived from the diverse array of species found only in old growth forests."
Less Than One Multimedia Campaign Goes Below WavesWASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2003 (ENS) - SeaWeb, a marine conservation organization, and the Ocean Wilderness Network, a coalition of regional and national ocean protection organizations, Wednesday launched Less Than One, a public awareness campaign calling for the establishment of a network of fully protected marine reserves along the U.S. Pacific coast.
For the first time, ocean conservation groups have coordinated their communications efforts through a single multimedia campaign. Print, billboard and broadcast ads use familiar, land based images to illustrate the scope of destruction taking place below the ocean's surface
Under current laws, less than one percent of the ocean is protected. As a result, overfishing, pollution and increased human use are harming ocean health, many recent studies have shown.
Within a fully protected reserve, the campaigning groups say, all biological resources are protected through prohibitions on fishing and the removal or disturbance of any living or non-living marine resource, except as necessary for monitoring or research to evaluate reserve effectiveness.
California's Marine Life Protection Act, adopted in October 1999, requires that the state's Department of Fish and Game develop a plan for establishing networks of marine reserves in California waters.
Policy makers and other stakeholders are now engaged in the creation of marine reserves within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Less Than One organizers say public education in this state is especially important, as the actions California takes will serve as a model for others.
Less Than One represents the efforts of marine advocacy organizations, individuals, fishers, divers, ocean recreation groups, and terrestrial wilderness advocates who are working to protect more of the ocean.
"By using advertisements that bring the public underwater, Less Than One increases awareness of and support for marine reserves," said Vikki Spruill, president of SeaWeb.
The Los Angeles office of Wongdoody, an award winning ad agency, designed the ads and donated its services to support the campaign.