Army Corps Refuses to Lower Missouri River LevelsWASHINGTON, DC, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps is refusing to comply with a federal judge's order to reduce flows on the Missouri River.
On July 12, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler issued a preliminary injunction to force the federal agency to lower the water levels along the river from July 15 to September 1 in order to protect endangered species.
But federal officials say the ruling contradicts a ruling from a different judge last year that ruled the government needs to ensure water flows are high enough for barges.
In a statement released Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is appealing Judge Kessler's ruling because it can not reconcile it with a court ruling issued in 2002 and affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2003.
The Corps says that order requires it "to maintain sufficient flows for navigation as called for under the existing Missouri River Master Manual and the current Annual Operating Plan."
Kessler issued the preliminary injunction on behalf of conservationists, who have filed suit to challenge the that operations plan because they believe it is a negative impact on federally protected bird and fish species and is violating the Endangered Species Act.
In its statement the Corps says that its operations plan is "legally and scientifically valid" and that "it is impossible to simultaneously comply with the conflicting flow requirements contained in the two orders."
The U.S. District Court is considering a request for a stay pending appeal and the Army Corps says it plans to continue operating under the controversial plan until a ruling is obtained from the court.
In today's statement, the Bush administration also announced the addition of $42 million to the 2004 budget for Missouri River ecosystem restoration and said they are taking steps to resolve management and endangered species issues on the Missouri River and attain the recovery of federally protected Missouri River species.
A 2002 report on the Missouri River ecosystem by the National Academy of Science found that "degradation of the Missouri River ecosystem will continue unless the river's natural water flow is significantly restored."
It found reforming the dam operations would benefit the economy by increasing recreational and hunting opportunities, in particular through enhancing fishery resources and increasing waterfowl populations.
Hurricane Claudette Leaves Two Dead in TexasAUSTIN, Texas, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - Texas Governor Rick Perry today requested a federal disaster declaration for 15 Texas counties after Hurricane Claudette slammed ashore near Port O'Connor. Stronger than first expected, Claudette hit Texas Tuesday, bringing torrential rains and sustained 90 mile per hour winds, according to the National Weather Service. The catagory 1 hurricane is the state's first in four years.
Packing winds that gusted to 104 miles per hour, the storm claimed two lives, that of a woman in Victoria, Texas, who was killed by a falling tree limb outside her home, and that of a boy in Jourdanton, Texas, who was killed when a tree fell on him. The names of the victims were not immediately released.
"Hurricane Claudette has forced thousands of Texans from their homes, damaged businesses and caused flooding and power outages," Perry said. "The State of Texas will do everything possible to help the many victims of this storm recover as quickly as possible."
Rescue and utility workers are working to restore power and phone service to tens of thousands of Texans.
"There's nothing minimal about Claudette," said Jack Colley, state coordinator for the governor's Division of Emergency Management. "Fifteen counties were impacted, we're still in the response mode, and our objective now is to ensure the health and safety of our citizens."
Tuesday night a tornado touched down in the Port Lavaca-Bay Meadows neighborhood, tearing the roof off of the local high school and trapping people in their homes, according to the American Red Cross.
Damage assessments have begun but are being workers are being hampered by downed power lines and flooded roads, and it could be days before the assessments are complete, officials say.
The Division of Emergency Management has activated its emergency operations center and is at the highest state of alert. The Department of Public Safety is assisting with traffic management in the affected areas, and more than two dozen emergency shelters have been opened.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued two men after their 92 foot shimp boat boat sank at the Sabine Pass Jetties in Sabine, Texas, Tuesday morning as a result of the storm. Tony and Lam Nguyen, of Biloxi, Mississippi shot off flares and were pulled from the water by a helicopter rescue crew.
Heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas from the hurricane battered the aircrew as they hoisted the men from the water. The victims are recovering in hospital.
Currently, the National Weather Service has downgraded Claudette to a tropical depression. The storm is moving along a west-northwest path at about 25 miles per hour, bringing more heavy rainfall to parts of south central Texas. A flash flood warning is in effect for Fort Bend Country, and flood watches are in effect for other coastal counties.
Court Denies California Ag Effort to Delay Air Pollution RulesSAN FRANCISCO, California, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - A petition by California agricultural interests to delay new federal air pollution regulations was rejected by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Tuesday.
Environmentalists hailed the decision, which upholds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to regulate air pollution from large farming operations in California's Central Valley.
These operations have been shielded from air pollution permit requirements by state law since 1976. Last year a coalition of environmental and public health groups, represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, successfully sued to force the EPA to declare this exemption illegal and to begin regulating major sources of agricultural air pollution.
The California Farm Bureau, which represents some 87,000 farmers, appealed the decision because it believes the costs of compliance will be a burden to many farmers. This appeal was rejected by the court Tuesday.
The Ninth Circuit held that EPA's decision to disapprove California's permitting program was "not only reasonable, but mandated by the plain language of the [Clean Air Act]."
The court said "the California Legislature had been on notice since 1995 that full approval of [its state permit program] hinged on the repeal" of the agricultural exemption from air permit requirements.
Legislation removing the exemption is currently pending in the California legislature.
Air pollution coming from farming operations contributes an estimated 26 percent of all air pollution in the Central Valley, which has three of the nation's four metropolitan areas with the worst ozone pollution.
Appropriations Committee Defuses Bush Nuclear Weapons Research
The committee's version of the fiscal year 2004 Energy Department budget eliminated much of the money the administration requested to research new low yield nuclear weapons, nuclear "bunker buster" weapons. The bill eliminated the $6 million for the mini nukes, and cut the funding for the bunker busters from $15 million to $5 million.
The committee also slashed the $25 million requested by the administration to shorten the lead time needed to resume nuclear testing in half - from three years to 18 months.
The funds could be reinstated by the full House or the Senate, but the Appropriations Committee move is likely to add to a contentious debate.
The administration says these plans would make the nation's nuclear arsenal into a more effective deterrent, because these kinds of weapons could reduce the potential for causing civilian casualties and could improve the effectiveness of nuclear weapons in destroying deeply buried and hardened targets.
But both provisions are part of the Bush administration's nuclear weapons policy that many believe blurs the line between the use of nuclear and conventional weapons and could undermine the international effort to contain the world's development of nuclear weapons.
Critics believe that that if the U.S. is perceived to be actively seeking new weapons in its nuclear arsenal, it will be harder to convince others to halt their development.
The $22 billion Energy Department spending bill includes some $8.5 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons program, defense nuclear nonproliferation, naval reactors.
House Holds Line Against UN Population FundWASHINGTON, DC, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - House Republicans defeated an effort Tuesday to restore U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) by a vote of 216 to 211. The provision would have provided $100 million over two years to the fund, which operates in some 140 countries and is the world's largest international source of funding for population and reproductive health programs.
China's one child policy - and allegations that the UN condoned harsh enforcement of the policy - took much of the criticism from opponents of the international fund. These allegations are a key cited reason by the Bush administration for its withdrawal of support for the fund.
Supporters' pleas that the fund should not be considered an abortion issue fell on deaf ears.
"For those who will try to turn this into a debate about abortion: let me clarify once more: not one single penny of UNFPA funds goes towards abortion.," said Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who had succeeded in restoring the funds in an earlier version of the fiscal 2004/2005 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.
Advocates say the UN/China allegations have been overstated to generate opposition to the fund and insist they will continue efforts to restore American participation in the fund, which has provided some $6 billion in assistance in developing countries since its inception in 1969.
"The nasty politics of the past two-and-a-half years has made it easy to forget that the United States was once a leader in the effort to improve the lives of women by funding international family planning," said Peter Kostmayer, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Population Conection. "President Bush and his administration would like to convince as many people as possible that the debate about international family planning is really about abortion, but nothing could be further from the truth."
The UNFPA supports family planning programs, prenatal and maternal education efforts, as well as programs to increase combat sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Arizona Rivers Receive New ProtectionSAN FRANCISCO, California, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - A federal court ruled last week that 57 Arizona rivers merit federal protection as "Wild or Scenic." The U.S. Forest Service identified the rivers as being eligible for the congressional designation as Wild or Scenic in 1993, but did not afford them the protection warranted by this eligibility.
Such eligibility requires the Forest Service by law to develop management plans to ensure that the rivers and streams will be protected until congressional action is completed.
This includes safeguard the rivers and streams from dams, roads, power lines, livestock grazing, and logging.
In 2001, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Central Arizona Paddlers Club sued the agency to force it to protect the 57 rivers, which total some 750 miles.
In its ruling last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Forest Service's argument that its 1993 study was not a real eligibility determination.
The rivers occur on all six of Arizona's National Forests and flow through a wide range of diverse habitats, from mountaintop spruce-fir forests to Sonoran desert cottonwood-willow riparian forests. They include rivers and streams through the Tonto National Forest, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Coconino National Forest, and Coronado National Forest.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was enacted in 1968 to protect America's remaining free flowing rivers from dam proposals and other harmful projects. Since its passage in 1968, more than 10,500 miles of river nationwide on over 150 river segments have been designated under the Act.
There is currently only one Wild and Scenic river in Arizona, a 40 mile stretch of the Upper Verde designated in 1984.
Florida Scrub Jays Get Helping Hand From DisneyPOLK COUNTY, Florida, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - Efforts to preserve habitat for Florida scrub jay have received some $70,000 in support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund.
The money will aid The Nature Conservancy's program that helps land managers conduct prescribed burns on public and private conservation lands throughout Polk, Highlands and Brevard counties.
Scrub jays, which are threatened and unique to Florida, depend on recurring fire to keep the oak scrub they use as habitat in suitable condition. This is the fifth year the conservation group's Florida Scrub-jay Fire Strike Team has received financial support from Disney - in the team of six fire professionals has assisted with 140 burns on 13 sites, totaling 9,168 acres.
"We have the ability to save this extraordinary bird and the habitat it needs to survive," said Steve Morrison, team participant and the Conservancy's Lake Wales Ridge Preserves manager. "With the support of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and other organizations, we are on our way."
Protecting the oak scrub habitat is critical for Florida scrub jays because they live in tight knit families, with juveniles often staying with the adult pair to help raise fledglings and guard against predators.
Research shows that scrub jay populations decline rapidly in overgrown habitats that are not burned regularly.
Overgrown habitat makes it more difficult for the birds to spot predators and to bury enough food for the winter. Some estimates find that 90 percent of the Florida scrub-jays that originally inhabited the state are gone.
"The Conservancy's Fire Strike Team is a concrete example of taking direct action to positively impact an endangered species, which is what the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund is all about," said Kim Sams, manager of the fund. "The team's progress over the last four years is remarkable, and we have been continually impressed with their dedication."
Africa Dust Could Impact Caribbean CloudsBOULDER, Colorado, July 16, 2003 (ENS) - Dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa may modify clouds and rainfall across the tropical North Atlantic as far away as Barbados, according to a new study by U.S. scientists.
This is the first long-term regional study to confirm observations that dust particles in the air - known as mineral aerosols - can act as kernels for precipitation to form around and is the first to suggest that African dust interacts with clouds over a large region.
"The interaction between clouds and aerosols is critical for understanding climate change," said Natalie Mahowald, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and University of California, Santa Barbara.
The study's findings were published in a recent issue of "Geophysical Research Letters."
Clouds play a pivotal role in reflecting and absorbing the Sun's rays, as well as radiation emitted from Earth's surface, the researchers explain, and the dust and cloud interplay also helps explain rainfall patterns over the Sahara Desert and areas to the south.
The dust particles act as surfaces, or kernels, for water vapor to attach to in low clouds, and for ice crystals to form around in higher clouds.
The researchers used 16 years of monthly mean observations from satellites, ground stations, and computer models to look at the relationship between cloud properties and mineral aerosols.
They found a positive correlation between low altitude cloud amounts and dust at the coast of North Africa, which supports the theory that dust particles act as sites for water droplets to form around in thin, low clouds.
The researchers also found a negative correlation between high clouds and dust along the equator across North Africa and the Atlantic Ocean.
This means that more dust creates heavy ice particles in high clouds that rain down and ultimately reduce high cloud amounts. But the researchers report that because there are no long term ground measurements for dust and high clouds in these areas and due to difficulties measuring these high clouds with satellites, they are unable to make firm conclusions regarding high clouds, rainfall, and ice forming around dust kernels.