Bush Asks Supreme Court to Rule on WildernessWASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush Administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that found the public has a right to enforce wilderness protections on public lands. The case, which originated in Utah, centers on whether the public can force the federal government to protect Wilderness Study Areas from damage.
The question presented to the Supreme Court is, "Whether the authority of the federal courts to "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed," extends to review of the adequacy of an agency's ongoing management of public lands under general statuatory standards and its own land use plans.
According to Earthjustice, the nonprofit, public interest law firm handling the case for 15 environmental organizations and one individual, by requesting that the Supreme Court review the case, the administration is saying it has sole authority to protect, or ignore, America's public lands.
The administration is challenging a ruling of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the public can sue the federal government when it fails to protect wilderness study areas from damage, as required under the Federal Land Management Policy Act.
Federal law requires wilderness study areas to be protected from off-road vehicles, mining, logging, road building, and other development. In addition, federal law provides citizens the ability to take agencies to court and gives the courts the authority to compel federal agencies to meet legal requirements.
The Bush administration argues in its brief to the Supreme Court that while federal law does require such study areas to be protected, until the 1.9 million acres if Utah land at issue are actually designated by Congress as wilderness study areas, the Bureau of Land Management is not required to manage them as if they were already designated as wilderness.
"A decision in favor of the Bush administration would have dire consequences for Western public lands," said Dave Alberswerth of The Wilderness Society, one of the plaintiff groups.
"This case addresses the basic question of whether our federal agencies have the obligation to enforce their own rules to protect the lands under their jurisdiction," Alberswerth said. "This is just the latest example of the Bush Administration's complete disregard for their stewardship responsibilities for our public treasures."
In the Utah case being appealed to the Supreme Court, the federal government admitted damage from off-road vehicles in wilderness study areas.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals court found citizens have the right to step in and enforce federal lands protections when the government fails to do so.
In its filing, the administration argues that a court may "compel" an agency to issue a rule, to make a final determination on an administrative complaint, or to act on a permit application, but a court may not compel an agency to conduct its "day-to-day operations" such as its ongoing management of public lands, differently from how they are being conducted.
"Public involvement in decisions over public lands use is the one problem standing in the way of developers, loggers, miners and off road vehicle users. Now the Bush administration is taking its case to the Supreme Court to get the public out of the way," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell from the law firm's Denver office.
In April, the Interior Department settled a separate lawsuit with the state of Utah revoking the ability for the Bureau of Land Management to review and recommend any more of its lands for possible wilderness designation by Congress.
"The Bush administration first says it will hold this wilderness in public trust for all Americans, and that's why we don't need anymore wilderness, and now the Bush administration is saying the complete opposite," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, another plaintiff group.
"Now the administration says it shouldn't be required to protect what wilderness is already under its auspices, until Congress acts," said Matz. "So much for trusting the federal government will uphold its word to protect America's lands, and so much for letting Americans participate in the process by which we bequeath them to our children, because this latest action in a long series of ruthless policy pronouncements rewards only the big business types who benefit from despoiling public lands."
"Thousands of Americans have logged countless hours inventorying these special places so that one day their children and grandchildren can enjoy a wilderness legacy," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director. "The Bush administration is willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to deny that legacy."
The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not to take this case by this fall. If the court decides to hear the case, proceedings would begin in 2004.
NASA Must Redo Hawaii Mountain Telescope AssessmentHONOLULU, Hawaii, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been ordered by a federal judge to rewrite the environmental assessment of its plan to add more telescopes to the existing two at the summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii.
The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs brought the lawsuit claiming that NASA and the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy violated the National Historic Preservation Act and the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiff claimed that damage the environment and desecrate sites sacred to Hawaiians.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled Tuesday that the controversial $50 million expansion of the Keck Observatory on Hawaii's tallest mountain had not been adequately assessed for the amount of traffic and dust that would be generated by NASA's activities, nor did the NASA assessment describe the scope of the expansion, known locally as the outrigger site.
Judge Mollway wrote, "The court specifically holds that the present EA [environmental assessment] does not adequately consider the impact of development of the outrigger telescope site when added to other past, present and reasonably foreseeable actions."
The proposed telescopes are three story high domes with underground light tunnels and would be attached to the existing W.M. Keck Observatory, which has two 111 foot-high telescopes on the Puu Hauoki cinder cone. The telescopes have already been built in Australia, OHA attorney Lea Hong said.
NASA is funding the $50 million project, and the university, as administrator of the Mauna Kea summit, is the applicant for approval from the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Attorney Lisa Bail, representing the Institute for Astronomy, told the "Honolulu Advertiser" newspaper that the ruling is not expected to halt the project, because the judge denied an Office of Hawaiian Affairs request that the state permitting process be stopped while the new assessment is prepared.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources is considering a conservation district use application by the university and held a case hearing earlier this year in which the telescope expansion was contested by the Sierra Club and native Hawaiian groups.
The survival of a tiny insect found only on the Mauna Kea summit may also block installation of the giant telescopes. On May 22, the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the wekiu bug Nysius wekiuicola as an endangered species with critical habitat under the federal Endangered Species Act. The agency has 90 days to determine whether the petition contains enough information to consider the listing.
The wekiu bug is found only on the summit of Mauna Kea, Island of Hawaii, above 11,000 feet. Loss and degradation of habitat by astronomy development and associated activities are the primary threat to the insect, according to the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, an alliance of native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and environmental activists.
Compaction of cinders and other volcanic rocks is a significant threat because the wekiu bug lives in the spaces between the rocks. Since the first summit road was paved, at least 62 acres of wekiu bug habitat have been destroyed by astronomy development.
But the demand for astronomical research may overwhelm environmental, native Hawaiian, and endangered species concerns. Last October astronomers at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy were awarded a $3.4 million grant by the Air Force Research Laboratories to design a new observatory to survey the entire sky and detect very faint objects. A major goal of the project is to identify and track asteroids that might collide with Earth.
The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System is currently conceived of as an array of small telescopes, and sites on either the Big Island or on Maui are being considered. Planned to become operational in 2006, the Institute for Astronomy says the new system will be more powerful for survey work than all existing telescopes combined.
New York Earmarks $14.5 Million for Clean Energy ProjectsALBANY, New York, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - The Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo is about to install a 200 kilowatt gas powered combined heat and power fuel cell during renovation of the 100 year old Old Lion House. The $1.16 million unit will provide power, hot water, and drive absorption chillers.
The Bronx Zoo project is one of 36 distributed generation and combined heat and power projects worth $14.5 million announced today by Governor George Pataki. The awards will support projects designed to increase clean, efficient generation capacity, and to support the development of improved generation technologies.
When cofunding for the projects is factored in, the 36 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) projects represent a total investment of $90.5 million in distributed generation and combined heat and power projects.
Combined heat and power applications provide greater overall efficiency than centralized power plants deliver by taking advantage of the waste heat. The overall efficiency of a typical combined heat and power system is close to 75 percent, while the overall efficiency of centralized power plants is about 35 percent due to heat losses at centralized plants, and transmission losses in delivering power from the plant to the customer.
The combined heat and power systems will enable commercial, agricultural, and industrial energy users to generate their own electricity, while using waste heat from the electric generation equipment for space or water heating.
"New York State is committed to promoting advanced technologies such as fuel cells, microturbines and clean generators because they help to protect our environment, improve our energy security and produce positive benefits for our economy," Governor Pataki said. "By supporting these smart initiatives across the state, we can help to reduce costs for energy consumers, while also helping to protect and enhance the quality of New York's environment."
New York University will replace a nearly 30 year old combined heat and power system on their campus with the installation of a $45 million state of the art cogeneration plant that will reduce on-site energy costs, harmful air pollutants including greenhouse gas emissions, improve reliability and reduce peak load on the grid. NYSERDA is contributing $1 million to help the university install the new system.
NYSERDA Acting President Peter Smith said, "Since we initiated this program two years ago, there has been tremendous interest in combined heat and power from energy users throughout the state, because the technology provides greater control over energy costs, while also providing additional reliability and potential economic benefits in today's power market."
As evidence of the interest in combined heat and power, NYSERDA reviewed more than 117 proposals seeking $38 million in funding for $277 million worth of projects.
The 36 projects were selected after a rigorous technical evaluation of each proposal to determine the likelihood of success as well as the economic and environmental benefits associated with the proposed projects.
Agreement on Sewage Dumping at Sea Not FoundWASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - Seven months of discussions between Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. and the national ocean advocacy group Oceana ended today without an agreement on sewage dumping at sea.
Oceana claims that the cruise line ended talks by "refusing to stop dumping sewage into the ocean."
Royal Caribbean said in a statement today that, "Contrary to Oceana’s assertion, we adhere to a strict policy of treating all sewage before discharging it in the ocean."
As a result, Oceana says the organization is poised to launch "an intensive public campaign to create the political, consumer and economic pressure" to encourage the cruise ship line to install advanced wastewater treatment facilities on those of its ships that currently do not have such systems.
Dana DuBose, Oceana’s cruise pollution campaign manager said, “We hoped that the two organizations could develop a model to stop cruise pollution that could serve the entire industry.”
Royal Caribbean said that its company policy - observed on all of its 25 ships sailing under the banners of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises - is that treated wastewater be disposed of only when a ship is at least 12 miles at sea and is traveling at at least six knots. "The only exception to this policy is when safety is an issue," the company said, adding that its wastewater procedures are audited by an independent audit firm on a quarterly basis.
Oceana said that senior representatives from both organizations discussed a series of pollution prevention actions that Royal Caribbean could take, monitored by a third party, to ensure that no more raw or inadequately treated sewage is discharged into the ocean. "In the end, however, Royal Caribbean was not even willing to commit to Oceana’s basic request to install advanced wastewater treatment equipment on all its ships over a multi-year period."
Royal Caribbean said that the company has spent "millions of dollars" on advanced technology and is "leading research and development efforts to improve existing wastewater treatment systems." Prototypes are being tested and some experimental technologies look "promising," the company said.
But Oceana says that is not good enough. Its public campaign calls on the cruise ship company to:
Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are deeply committed to the marine environment, and already have "strict safeguards" in place to ensure its protection, the company said. "Our goal - in all matters related to the oceans - is to be “above and beyond compliance,” and, as a result, we meet or exceed all existing local, federal and international regulations affecting this environment."
Conservation of Fish and Shellfish Nurseries Neglected
"The Role of Nearshore Ecosystems as Fish and Shellfish Nurseries," the latest in the society's ongoing series of peer-reviewed reports, points out that the concept of nursery habitat has been poorly defined. It sets forth guidelines on assessing which coastal areas actually serve as nurseries for marine animals.
"Most marine conservation and fisheries management strategies focus on adult populations, not on protecting juvenile habitats, which are probably the hardest hit by human activities," says lead author Michael Beck of The Nature Conservancy and the University of California-Santa Cruz.
"We have been talking about the importance of the nursery value of these nearshore habitats for too long without focusing concerted effort on their management and conservation," he said.
The emphasis should shift from mitigation and restoration measures to preventive conservation of key coastal areas such as seagrass meadows, marshes, oyster reefs and kelp and mangrove forests, the report advises.
This shift in emphasis would contribute to the preservation of species such as clawed lobster, pink snapper, blue crab, flounder, and brown shrimp.
Beck and his coauthors note that there are significant differences both within and between ecosystems in their value as nurseries. Not all marshes are equally productive and the important nursery role of some ecosystems such as oyster reefs and kelp forests has often been ignored.
"Because our ability to restore ecosystems such as salt marshes and seagrass meadows is limited," says Beck, "we believe more effort should go towards conservation efforts. More habitat needs to be protected, for example, from the impacts of dredging and coastal development."
The report notes that nursery habitats are caught between the jurisdictions of multiple agencies. The authors recommend that the relevant U.S. federal agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey establish a jointly funded program focused on nursery ecosystem management.
"But we can't expect government to do it all," says Beck. "We should increase opportunities for private sector involvement for example through the conservation lease and ownership of coastal, intertidal and submerged lands."
"The Role of Nearshore Ecosystems as Fish and Shellfish Nurseries" is available online at: http://www.esa.org/sbi/sbi_issues/issues_pdfs/issue11.pdf
Clean Air for Life Aims to Raise $250,000 for Vehicle Choice PromoSAN FRANCISCO, California, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - California consumers would choose to drive cleaner, low emission vehicles if they knew the facts about the vehicle choices available to them, say the organizers of Clean Air for Life. Today, Clean Air for Life announced a $250,000 fund raising drive to raise awareness in California on the connection between smog created by car exhaust and respiratory ailments.
Incorporated in July 2002, the nonprofit organization works to educate Californians on how they can positively impact air quality.
Up to 90 percent of monies raised during the California Clean Air Challenge fund raising drive will go to public service print advertising campaigns in cities that have the highest concentrations of smog, including San Jose, Sacramento and Los Angeles.
"One of our most precious resources is the air that we breathe," said Barbara Wambach, executive vice president at GAP Body and one of the first business executives leading the challenge.
"The auto industry has responded with many choices that reduce these pollutants by more than 75 percent," said Wambach. "Clean Air for Life educates consumers so that they can make smart choices in automobiles with great affect on the quality of air that we breathe."
Ground level air pollution threatens more than 33 million Californians, an increase of four million from the previous year, according to the May 2003 State of the Air Report, which cites vehicle exhaust as a major contributor to smog.
In 2002, the four most ozone polluted metropolitan areas and the five most ozone polluted counties in the United States were in California. Exposure to ozone even at low levels can have significant health effects, particularly for children and the elderly.
According to a 2002 American Lung Association State of the Air Report, the number of children in California who have asthma rose to 600,000, a 160 percent increase since 1980.
The Clean Air for Life website, www.cleanairforlife.org, provides links that enable consumers to research vehicle emissions and identify the most fuel efficient, low emission vehicle that meets their needs. Information on low emission hybrid, electric or compressed natural gas automobiles is available. Donations to the campaign can be made through this website.
"It is important to everyone at Clean Air for Life that all Californians feel they have a voice and the power to create their own, healthy clean air future," said the organization's founder and board president Laurent Pacalin.
Colorado Historical Mining Land Purchase Protects Lynx HabitatOURAY, Colorado, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - The Trust for Public Land has purchased two more groups of mining claims in the Red Mountain area above Ouray. The 59 separate mining claims cover a total of 456 acres. They are part of the Red Mountain Project, an initiative to acquire more than 11,000 acres of privately owned mining claims in the mountains between Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride.
The mining claims were purchased by TPL from Royal Gold, Inc. of Denver, and Excalibur Industries.
The latest purchases bring to 3,600 acres the total protected by the project, a partnership which includes Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Forest Service, Ouray County, San Juan County, the historical societies of each county, and the Red Mountain Task Force.
The land will be conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service to be included in the Uncompahgre National Forest with funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The region's aspen groves and alpine meadows draw more than one million visitors a year and are inhabited by two species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act - the Canada lynx and a butterfly known as the Uncompahgre fritillary.
In addition, the area was a center of Colorado's 19th century gold and silver mining boom and includes a large number of historic mining structures. The 305 acre group of claims acquired by TPL from Royal Gold will protect the outstanding views from U.S. Highway 550, also known as the Million Dollar Highway, and preserve the Mountain King mine. It began operating in 1878 and will be managed by the Forest Service for its scenic and historic interest.
Congress appropriated the funds at the request of U.S. Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Wayne Allard, and Congressman Scott McInnis, all Colorado Republicans.
Campbell, a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, who helped to secure the funding, said, "Red Mountain is one of Colorado's most treasured historical places. It is a rare link to the past, which tells us so much about the way the people who helped settle the West lived. The provision of these funds is an opportunity for the federal government to build on local initiative and help preserve Colorado land for future generations."
Doug Robotham, Colorado TPL director, said, "This is some of the most historic and ecologically important land in the San Juan Mountains and protecting it from sprawl is one of our major goals."
Bob Storch, supervisor of the Grand Mesa, Umcompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, said, "By working with TPL, we have acquired some 4,500 forested acres and made significant additional progress toward reaching our 11,000 acre goal in the Red Mountain area. Thanks to TPL, this magnificent area will be protected for the use and enjoyment of generations to come."
Ouray County has also acquired from a private owner several lots, along with three well preserved historic homes, in the abandoned mining town of Ironton. The land and structures will become part of a Ouray County Historic Park. Funding for this purchase came from grants from the Colorado State Historical Society and the Idarado Resource Recovery Fund.
On September 20, the Red Mountain Task Force will hold an open house. Visitors will be able to see a dozen historic mine sites, explore newly opened roads and trails, and learn about the history of the region and future plans to protect it. For details, contact the Ouray County Historic Society at: 970-325-4565 or 970-325-4075 or by email at: email@example.com
Bald Eagle Numbers Rising SlowlyWASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2003 (ENS) - Winter counts of bald eagles increased nearly two percent each year from 1986 to 2000 in the lower 48 states, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) analysis. Results of 15 years of the Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey were published today by USGS and Boise State University scientists.
The analysis was based on 101,777 eagle sightings during 5,180 surveys of 563 routes in 42 states. The proportion of survey routes with increasing counts was higher in the North and in the East.
Estimated count trends varied by region. In the Northeast, eagle numbers increased 6.1 percent each year from 1986 to 2000, whereas counts in the Southwest, Northwest and Southeast were relatively stable.
Still, the increase in winter counts has not been as dramatic as the increase observed in nesting populations throughout the lower 48 states, which increased at a rate of about eight percent per year over the same period, said Karen Steenhof, coordinator of the annual Midwinter Bald Eagle Surveys and a research scientist at the USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center.
Most likely, this difference is because winter counts include bald eagles that nest in Canada and Alaska, where populations may not be increasing at the same rate as populations in the conterminous U.S., said Steenhof.
The decline of the bald eagle throughout its range was largely the result of DDT residue accumulation in fish, which the eagles ate. Pesticide contamination caused thinning of eggshells, resulting in premature egg breakage and death of the embryo, as well as in the poisoning of adults.
"Researchers believe that the main reason for the increasing count is the population rebound after the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972," Steenhof explained. "Declines associated with pesticides during the 1950s may have been more severe in the Northeast than in other parts of the country and may be the reason counts are increasing more there than elsewhere in the country."
About two-thirds of the eagles observed on surveys were mature adults and about one-third were immature.
Trends in numbers of adults and immatures counted showed similar geographic patterns, but counts of adults increased at a higher rate than counts of immatures during the 15 year monitoring period.
Steenhof said these facts suggest that the most substantial rate of population recovery occurred before and at the beginning of the 15 year sampling period.
Increasingly warmer winters since the mid-1980s may explain why counts have increased more in the North than in the South, said Steenhof. Warmer winters mean that eagles have better access to water that remains unfrozen, reducing their need to migrate south.
Rapid human population growth in the South and West, as reported in the 2001 U.S. Census, could be preventing eagles from colonizing previously suitable habitat in those regions, she said.
The bald eagle, unique to North America, has been the national symbol of the United States for 201 years, ever since Congress chose the bird as a symbol of the new country in 1782.