Roadless Rule Declared Illegal by Federal CourtCHEYENNE, Wyoming, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - A federal judge issued an injunction Monday barring implementation of the Clinton era rule that bans roadbuilding in 58 million acres of the national forests. U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer ruled that the rule illegally created wilderness areas in violation of the process set up by Congress through the Wilderness Act.
Conservationists say they will appeal the ruling, which contradicts the findings of a higher court - the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In December 2002, the 9th Circuit overturned a 2001 ruling by a federal judge in Idaho that deemed the rule illegal.
Any appeal to the Brimmer ruling would send the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado - considered by many to be more conservative than the 9th Circuit. If the 10th Circuit issues a ruling that is different than the 9th Circuit's, the matter could be sent to the Supreme Court.
The case was brought on behalf of the state of Wyoming, which has some 3.5 million acres of national forests subject to protections set forth by the roadless rule.
The rule has been a source of controversy since it was put into effect in January 2001 during the dying days of the Clinton administration.
It bans roadbuilding within some 58 million acres - or one third - of the national forests for commercial activities, but does allow new roads if needed to fight fires or to protect public health and safety.
Supporters say it provide vital protection for some of the nation's last remaining wild places and wildlife. They contend roadbuilding in these roadless areas only further subsidizes the timber industry and note that the Forest Service already faces a maintenance backlog of $8.4 billion for its 380,000 mile network of forest roads.
More than 2.2 million public comments have been received in favor of the rule - meaning more Americans participated in this federal rule-making process than in any other federal rule making in history. A bipartisan bill to cement the rule into law was introduced in May both houses of Congress.
But the Bush administration believes the rule is too broad and today issued a proposed rule to exempt Alaska's Chugach and Tongass National Forests from the roadless rule.
The administration plans to issue a proposed revision granting state exemptions to the rule this fall.
Greater Yellowstone Lands ProtectedBOZEMAN, Montana, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service and a national land conservation group completed the purchase of some 3,400 acres in the Taylor Fork drainage northwest of Yellowstone National Park.
The tract, which is considered prime recreation land and key elk and grizzly bear habitat, is one of the last, large remaining blocks of unprotected private land in Gallatin National Forest.
"The Forest Service has been working on this acquisition for 14 years," said Becki Heath, forest supervisor for the Gallatin National Forest. "The public, as well as the resource, will benefit greatly from this transaction."
The purchase resolves one of the "longest and most challenging land use controversies in the Greater Yellowstone area," said Alex Diekmann, project manager for the Trust for Public Land (TPL) the conservation group involved in the deal.
The west side of the Gallatin National Forest used to be a "checkerboard" pattern of private land holdings - a legacy of the 19th century federal policy of granting large quantities of land to the railroads to encourage development.
The deal does more than protect key wildlife habitat - it solves a longstanding public access dispute in the nearby Buffalo Horn drainage, which can only be accessed by driving through ranch property also owned by the sellers.
At the urging of the Forest Service, TPL convinced the sellers to grant a permanent easement to the United States as part of the overall purchase, allowing the agency to construct a new road through the ranch.
"I can think of no other drainage in the Greater Yellowstone area that provides such high quality fish and wildlife habitat and so many different recreational opportunities," said Kurt Alt, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Losing the Taylor Fork to subdivision would have been tragic, not only for wildlife but also for those of us who go there to fish and hunt and to simply enjoy the splendor of one of our state's most pristine areas."
Last year, TPL acquired the first 1,268 acres and conveyed them to the United States for their permanent protection - the Forest Service took title on the other 1,978 acres on Friday.
A total of $9.4 million was provided by Congress and The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as part of its Greater Yellowstone Land Conservation Initiative, provided interim financing.
The conservation group and the Forest Service praised Montana Senator Conrad Burns, a Republican, for spearheading efforts to get the $9.4 million in funding from the U.S. Congress for the deal.
"This purchase preserves one of our state's most important wildlife areas and greatly improves access for sportsmen and the recreating public," Burns said. "Our open spaces in Montana make the 'big sky' state what it is."
EPA Completes Hazardous Waste Removal From Gila River SitePHOENIX, Arizona, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week that it had completed the removal of thousands of gallons of hazardous waste from an abandoned site on the Gila River Indian Community outside of Sacaton, Arizona.
The agency began cleaning up the site on June 17, 2003 and has now removed some 100 55-gallon drums of flammable, toxic chemicals as well as some 3,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid sludge was also removed from a large tank at the site.
The hazardous waste was left by the Electro Treatment Co., which has been defunct for more than a year. The company's owner David Flasha has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The acids removed from the site by the EPA were used by the company to remove precious metals, such as platinum, from mine wastes. In May 2003, the EPA ordered Flasha to remove the hazardous chemicals from the site.
His failure to comply prompted the Gila River Indian Community, which owns the land Flasha's company used, to ask the EPA to remove the waste.
The Gila River Indian Community is located adjacent to the rapidly growing Phoenix metropolitan area - it is one of the most populous tribes in the United States with more than 20,000 enrolled members and more than 374,000 acres.
"Anytime you have chemicals abandoned, it presents a significant health risk," said U.S. EPA On-Scene Coordinator Steve Calanog. "If any of them were released to the environment, it could have presented a health threat to nearby workers and residents."
The EPA says it will try to recover the funds for the recovery - estimated at some $93,000 - from Flasha in bankruptcy court.
West Virginia Site Gears Up for Carbon Sequestration
The Bush administration is keen to explore the concept of carbon sequestration because of growing concern about the environmental impacts of C02 emissions. Advocates of storing carbon underground believe it would be less costly than mandatory C02 emissions reductions and could give the U.S. coal industry a needed boost.
Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham touted the West Virginia project as "another step forward in our efforts to improve the environment while still making sensible use of coal, our most abundant energy source in the United States."
Mountaineer was chosen as the test site for the 18 month project in part due to its location in the Ohio River Valley area, which is thought to be geologically favorable for carbon capture and sequestration and is home to many fossil fuel-fired electricity generation plants.
According to the Energy Department, if the site proves to be geologically sound for carbon capture and sequestration, the data from the study will be used to inform simulations, risk assessment and permit applications, and to design the monitoring plans for future steps in the effort.
Some scientists remain wary of the concept of storing carbon underground and contend it is at best a short term solution to the problem, but the administration is committed to the idea.
"Maximizing our ability to sequester carbon dioxide through environmentally safe and effective methods is a mainstay of our efforts to reduce our reliance on foreign fossil energy sources," Abraham said.
"We must continue to find ways to make better use of our own energy resources while still being mindful of the environment, and carbon sequestration is an excellent example of our efforts in that regard."
California Budget Proposals Worry Public Health, Environment GroupsSACRAMENTO, California, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of public health and environmental groups says budget proposals by California Republican legislators would gut public health and environmental protections and threaten parks and coastline beaches.
The proposals would reduce fees paid by polluters to support environmental enforcement and cleanup and would reduce air pollution permitting feeds by some $10 million to $14 million.
Republican legislators also aim to eliminate some $14 million in wastewater discharge fees and more than $10 million in assessments that support pesticide regulation.
"These proposals are bad for Californians - they will damage our health, spoil our environment, and punch a bigger hole in the budget by eliminating fees paid by polluters," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), part of the coalition that represents hundreds of thousands of Californians.
California is in its worst fiscal crisis in history, but a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that "only 38 percent of residents think funding for environmental programs should be cut in order to reduce the deficit and free up funds for other programs."
Democrats, who control the legislature and the governor's office, say the Republic plan provides little room for agreement and appear to agree with many of the coalition's concerns.
But Republicans have enough votes to hold up a budget agreement that needs the approval of a two thirds majority and public health and environmental groups worry that some of the myriad of worrisome proposals could slip through.
"Our environment is already under attack from Washington," said Rico Mastrodonato, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters. "We should be bolstering state environmental protections right now, not dismantling the institutions that protect our precious resources."
One budget proposal would cut nearly half the funds used by the Air Resources Board to monitor emissions from factories and power plants.
Another proposal by some legislators would abolish the California Coastal Commission, which defends the coastline from oil drilling and over-development, promotes public access and preserves wetlands. And another could reduce the State Parks Department by some 60 percent, possibly forcing the closure of more than 150 parks.
"These plans attempt to balance the budget on the back of the environment, and that simply will not work," said Dan Jacobson, executive director of Environment California. "Conservation programs amount to less than two percent of the state budget, and polluter fees actually generate tens of millions of dollars to support these key programs."
BP Shuts Down Alaska Oil FieldANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - International oil giant BP will shut down its easternmost field on Alaska's North Slope because it has become uneconomical to continue production.
The Badami oil field is the field close to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which has been targeted by many Congressional Republicans and the Bush administration as a potential source of oil.
BP could restart production at the field if market conditions justify the move, but conservationists believe the company's decision shows that the nation should look energy policies that do not include oil drilling in ANWR.
"The Arctic Refuge is an expensive and risky gamble for the oil companies, and opening the area will not generate substantial revenues," said PIRG Arctic Fellow Justin Tatham. "When you look at the oil industry's conservative investment criteria - and BP's experience at Badami - it is hard to understand why any company would want to invest in the Refuge."
In March, the U.S. Senate rejected a provision to open ANWR to oil drilling, despite an intense lobbying effort by the Bush administration and the Republican leadership to allow drilling in the refuge.
The Bush administration and supporters of drilling want to open a 1.5 million acre area with the 19.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain
Opponents believe the coastal plain is the biological heart of the refuge and that oil drilling would have devastating impacts to its wildlife.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there is up to 16 billion barrels of oil within ANWR's coastal plain and supporters of drilling have latched onto this figure. The mean of the USGS estimate, however, finds that only 5.2 billion barrels of oil is economically recoverable at $24 per barrel.
Oil prices have risen above $35 per barrel in recent months, but USGS estimates do not show a significant increase in economically recoverable oil from the 5.2 billion barrel total at $24 per barrel.
Last year, BP withdrew support from an industry group known as Arctic Power, which is lobbying to open ANWR for drilling.
Report Warns of Deep Sea Coral DestructionWASHINGTON, DC, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - Bottom trawling is threatening the nation's deep sea coral, according to a new report released today by Oceana, a national ocean conservation group. It lists bottom trawling as "the most widespread human threat to deep sea coral communities" and Oceana has launched a campaign against the fishing practice.
The report, entitled "Deep Sea Corals: Out of Sight, But No Longer Out of Mind" says that more than 231,000 square miles of seafloor habitat off the U.S. coast - including many stands of deep sea coral - are under pressure each year from bottom trawling.
Corals are living animals that can congregate in colonies towering up to ten feet tall, but they grow very slowly - less than one inch a year - and are sensitive to disturbance.
The report acknowledges that there is not much data on the extent of destruction to deep sea coral from bottom trawling, but cites several daunting estimates.
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that Alaskan waters alone more than one million pounds of corals and sponges are removed from the seafloor every year by commercial fishing - some 90 percent by bottom trawlers.
"These estimates may grossly underestimate the actual level of damage as many of the corals and sponges are crushed and not pulled to the surface and counted by observers," according to the report.
Oceana says that the actual damage could be even greater than is presently known, as scientists are only beginning to document how widespread and important deep sea corals are.
"The report shows that we need to act now, not ten years from now," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist at Oceana. "We simply do not have that much time."
Corals are like the "redwoods of the ocean," Hirshfield said, but they provide more to the oceans than beauty.
"Corals are spawning and nursery grounds, providing shelter and safety from predators," he said. "When bottom trawlers bulldoze them, whatever fish are not killed in the process lose their homes."
Oceana says its new national campaign will target policymakers, industry and the public to enact measures to preserve deep sea corals and limit bottom trawling.
Ibuprofen Use May Cut Breast Cancer Risk in HalfCOLUMBUS, Ohio, July 15, 2003 (ENS) - New research suggests that regular ibuprofen use may cut a woman's risk of developing breast cancer in half.
In findings reported last week at the annual meeting of the Association of Cancer Research, Ohio State University researchers detailed that using ibuprofen - a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) - on a regular basis for more than 10 years may decrease a woman's chance by nearly 50 percent that she will develop breast cancer.
Using aspirin - another NSAID - reduced breast cancer risk by about 22 percent, said Randall Harris, the study's lead author and the co-director of the Center of Molecular Epidemiology and Environmental Health at Ohio State University.
Breast cancer is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer-related death among women and second to skin cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. Studies that aim to find the cause of breast cancer have been inconclusive, but a wide range of environmental factors cause an estimated 75 percent of all cancer cases in the United States.
Harris and his colleagues used data from a survey that followed nearly 81,000 women for four years to determine what effect NSAIDs had on decreasing the incidence of breast cancer. These women were some of more than 100,000 women participating in the Women's Health Initiative, an ongoing nationwide study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that looks at a variety of women's health issues.
"The results suggest that there were about 150 fewer breast cancer cases per 100,000 women each year among NSAID users versus those who did not use NSAIDs," Harris said. "This translates into an approximately 30 percent reduction for all NSAID users, and a 50 percent reduction in risk among ibuprofen users."
Even women in high-risk groups - those who were obese, those who had never given birth or gave birth later in life, those with a family history of breast cancer - still had the same level of reduction if they were regular NSAID users.
Harris thinks the reason that NSAIDs, in particular ibuprofen, have such a powerful effect is due to their ability to block the inflammatory process.
These drugs may have side effects in a small percentage of people, said Harris, the most common of which is an upset or irritated stomach.
"There is no recommended guideline for when or if to start taking NSAIDs," Harris said. "The evidence is compelling that these compounds do protect women who are 40 and older, but they need to be taken for a few years."
"If you are going to be a regular ibuprofen or aspirin user, tell your physician," he said.