AmeriScan: July 28, 2003

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U.S. Launches Global Initiative Against Illegal Logging

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration today announced a new global initiative to help stop illegal logging. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States will assist developing countries reduce illegal logging and address corruption in the forest sector.

The assistance will attempt to strengthen markets for products from well managed forests, discourage trade in illegally harvested products, promote improved forestry practices in developing countries as well as forest sector reforms.

Conservationists praised the announcement, but urged the administration to back its words with funding and actions.

The United States is the world's largest importer and consumer of timber and wood products, and some environmental groups say much of this is illegally cut and smuggled out of developing countries.

A 2002 report for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)found that illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber and wood-based products is occurs in more than 70 countries. This trade negatively impacts the environment and the world's biodiversity, WWF says.

"Secretary Powell has outlined a comprehensive approach to the serious problem of illegal logging," said WWF President Kathryn Fuller. "We commend him and the administration for their leadership and initiative on this tough, complex issue."

Success will require "significant added resources," Fuller said. "A problem entrenched and so pervasive can not be fixed without investment - of funds, manpower, and time."

A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a Washington-based non profit environmental group, furthers this sentiment. It documents concern over illegal shipments of a threatened Indonesian tree species make their way into the United State as pool cues and picture frames.

U.S. customs authorities at the Department of Agriculture have made more seizures of illegal Ramin shipments in the last year than any other product. EIA says the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, about to be voted on by Congress, threatens to further increase this destructive illegal trade.

"The President's initiative comes at a crucial time," said Alexander von Bismarck, senior investigator with EIA. "Our investigations show how timber barons are making millions by destroying the world's last rainforests and smuggling their products to the United States via Singapore."

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Internal U.S. Evaluation Casts Doubt on Camisea Impact

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - Environmentalists say an internal evaluation of the environmental impacts of the Camisea Gas Project by the U.S. Export Import Bank confirms violations of international standards.

Environmentalists and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are fighting the project, which they say slices through a biodiversity hotspot described by scientists as "the last place on earth" to drill for fossil fuels.

The Export Import Bank is considering over $200 million in financing for drilling operations inside this Reserve. In addition, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) is set to vote on loan guarantees and some financing for help fund Peru's $2.6 billion Camisea Project, which includes two pipelines to the Peruvian coast, cutting through the Amazon.

Whereas the U.S. Export Import Bank is a federal department, the IADB is a multilateral organization with some 27 member countries from the North and South America as well as the Caribbean.

It is expected to decide this week whether to provide a $75 million loan for pipeline construction and whether to syndicate an additional $320 million in loans from private banks.

Friends of the Earth reports that the U.S. Export Import Bank's evaluation, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, provides additional evidence the project should be rejected by both institutions.

The environmental group says that the Export Import Bank's own evaluation finds impact mitigation measures for Camisea are "woefully inadequate" and will result in "irreversible impacts" and the spread of non-indigenous diseases and has already caused serious landslides.

NGOs working to delay the vote cite this evaluation along with recent field documentation and video footage showing extensive environmental damage and erosion from the project.

Staff with the IADB offer "a lot of bells and whistles as mitigation, but the reality is Camisea equals destruction of primary rainforests and indigenous peoples," said Jonathan Sohn of Friends of the Earth.

The groups say that the support of the Export Import Bank would run counter to its own environmental policies and could undercut the Bank's leading role within developing countries to promote higher standards for export credit agencies.

In addition, they note that Citigroup and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation both chose not to get involved in the Project.

"Camisea's developers make promises on paper but we see a different reality," said Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which released a videotape today documenting the impact of the project. "Our tax dollars should not fund this tragedy in the making,"

Twenty three major Peruvian NGOs released a joint statement earlier this month outlining serious flaws in the Project and recommending significant changes in location and construction methods to avoid human rights abuses and fulfill international environmental standards.

Both Peruvian and U.S. NGOs demand a delay in Bank decisions until these recommendations are fully incorporated into the Project.

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House Cuts Wildfire Funding From Emergency Spending Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - The House approved a $983 million supplemental funding bill for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but removed some $310 million targeted to fight wildfires from the bill.

The Bush administration has requested an additional $289 million to fight wildfires - a figure approved overwhelmingly by the Senate earlier this month. Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are expected to run out of money for wildfire measures before September 30, 2003 when the fiscal year ends.

FEMA will also run short of money and House leaders contend that the agency can not borrow money from other funds, while the Forest Service and BLM can.

They say that the need for FEMA is much greater than that of the agencies charged with fighting wildfires and stripped the bill of everything but FEMA for the sake of political expediency.

"This is a real emergency for FEMA," said Alaska Republican Don Young, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "My thinking is it would have been smarter to include in this bill the fire fighting money that is necessary. But it did not happen. I wish it had, but it did not."

Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and other Western lawmakers lobbied to include the funds - noting that there are several active fires in his home state. Walden said "the Forest Service tells us they will run out of money to fight these fires next week."

Borrowing money from other accounts is an option for the Forest Service and BLM, Walden acknowledged, but he says it simply inhibits much needed hazardous fuels reduction projects.

This is what happens "year after year after year after year," Walden said.

The government plans fire reduction projects, fails to budget correctly for the fire season and has to pull money out from those projects to fight fires, Walden explained.

"We delay what we need to do to fix problem that will get us to where we do not have as expensive a fire to fight, because it would not be as catastrophic," he said. "This is penny wise and pound foolish."

Even the $289 million in the Senate bill looks far short of the firefighting needs of the federal government. The Forest Service could face a shortfall of some $400 million and the BLM a gap of more than $300 million.

The House has already recessed for the summer so unless the Senate adopts the House bill, FEMA will not get its emergency funding.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported 39 large active fires in the United States, including one that has forced the evacuation of Glacier Bay National Park in Montana.

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Duke Power Company to Test Plutonium Fuel

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a notice in the Federal Register Friday about plans by the Duke Power Company to test plutonium fuel - known as mixed oxide fuel (MOX) - in either its Catawba, South Carolina or McGuire, North Carolina nuclear stations.

Four MOX "lead test assemblies" (LTAs) would be used in one of four Duke reactors. Both nuclear plants are both located near Charlotte, North Carolina.

The test is planned as part of the Energy Department's plutonium disposition program, although the agency acknowledged to Congress last year that "immobilizing" the plutonium in high-level waste was cheaper than using it as MOX.

Many environmental groups oppose the MOX program due to safety questions raised by MOX use in reactors and because of the increased proliferation concerns posed by plutonium handling and processing in the United States and Russia.

The Federal Register announcement affords the public the opportunity to request a hearing on the license amendment necessary to test the MOX.

Greenpeace, a vocal critic of the plan, says that because the United States does not have a MOX fuel fabrication plant, the MOX assemblies would have to be fabricated in Europe. The organization notes this would be controversial as approximately 150 kilograms weapons plutonium would have to be transported overland from Los Alamos National Laboratory and then shipped, along with an armed escort vessel, to one of two MOX fabrication plants in France or Belgium.

Earlier this week the NRC announced that its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the U.S. MOX plant, which is planned for the Energy Department's Savannah River Site would not be ready until the end of September.

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Hawaii Biopharming Tests Yield Lawsuit

HONOLULU, Hawaii, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - A national nonprofit organization filed suit last week to lift what it deems "a wall of secrecy" surrounding ongoing field tests in Hawaii of plants that have been genetically engineered to produce a range of industrial chemicals or drugs. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) wants the Department of Agriculture (DOA) of the State of Hawaii to provide public access to state records regarding ongoing field tests in Hawaii of these "biopharm" crops.

"The shroud of secrecy surrounding biopharming is unacceptable," said Joseph Mendelson, CFS's legal director. "The public has the right to know about these potentially harmful substances being grown in our backyard. The state has become a willful accomplice in depriving the people of Hawaii of this right."

The suit was filed by the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the CFS in the Circuit Court of the State of Hawaii, First Circuit.

DOA cooperates with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in overseeing field tests of all genetically engineered crops in Hawaii, including those related to biopharming.

The department exchanges with USDA documents containing important information about what kind of substances are being produced, how and where these substances are being released, and what the responsible authorities are doing to control them.

The CSF contends that the two agencies have kept a tight grip on this information. For example, USDA's website indicates that two biopharm field tests were permitted in Hawaii in 2002. One was a half acre field test of a variety of sugar cane that received a gene from a "man," and a 20.8-acre field test of a variety of corn, whose gene donor is concealed as "confidential business information."

No other information is provided anywhere regarding, for example, the substances produced by the crops, or even the location of the tests, beyond their existence somewhere in the state.

The plaintiff asked the state to release the information pursuant to the state public records law, but DOA refused, claiming that it would jeopardize it relations with the USDA and that the documents are are "protected from disclosure" under federal open records laws because they contain "confidential business information."

"DOA's reasoning is transparent," said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. "The law requires state agencies like DOA to grant the public wide access to its records. DOA does not have a leg to stand on in withholding from the public information that will undoubtedly reveal the state's negligence in failing to oversee these field trials."

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Yellowstone Faces Annual Shortfall of $25 Million

HELENA, Montana, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - Yellowstone National Park announced today the results of a comprehensive financial analysis that reveals an annual funding shortfall of $25 million, more than a third shy of the money required to protect the park and meet the needs of nearly three million visitors.

"Yellowstone is a national gem that each year is becoming more and more tarnished," said Tony Jewett, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) northern Rockies senior regional director. "This new report provides concrete evidence of just how badly Yellowstone is underfunded and the impact of that insufficient funding on our first and most treasured national park."

Yellowstone National Park participated in a six-year-old nationwide partnership between the National Park Service and NPCA to complete a financial analysis and write a business plan for park management.

The report finds that Yellowstone lacks about one third of the funds it needs as well as more than 200 employees.

The findings for Yellowstone are in line with NPCA's position that on average, U.S. national parks are operating with only two-thirds of the needed funding. NPCA says the Park Service needs $600 million more annually to adequately manage the national park system.

The national park system also faces a maintenance backlog of some $4.9 billion.

"Yellowstone is being held together by dedicated, professional staff doing multiple jobs and working beyond maximum capacity," Jewett said. "But there are costs to this Band-Aid approach and protection of America's first national park is lapsing. Solutions must be found."

Administration officials say funding for Yellowstone has increased under President George W. Bush and park infrastructure has been improved. They note that the United Nations recently removed Yellowstone from its list of World Heritage sites in danger, a move some conservationists believe was premature.

Yellowstone was designated as a national park in 1872 - the world's first. It has the world's largest concentration of geysers and is known for its wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves and bison.

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Report Raises Concerns for Prince William Sound

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - More than 14 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska's Prince William Sound remains at risk and needs long-term protection, according to a report released today by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

The report, titled "State of the Sound: Prince William Sound, Alaska," finds that is the Sound ecosystem still deeply scarred by the Exxon Valdez oil spill and human uses pose new and more far-reaching dangers to it as well.

"We must act now to save one of the world's last great wilderness ecosystems," said Mark Van Putten, president of NWF. "Prince William Sound has reached a crossroads - what we do now and decide now will determine its future."

Released last week, the report calls for more coordinated and proactive management actions to achieve a balance among numerous competing uses while protecting the fish, wildlife and wilderness character of the Sound.

Water quality ranked a six out of ten on the report's ecosystem health rating scale, as did the intertidal habitat.

The report finds that the Sound's Pacific herring rate only a two on the scale, with harbor seals and marbled murrelets scoring three.

The Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989, and spilt some 11 million gallons of oil into Sound. Lingering effects are present, the report finds, but NWF contends the biggest problems facing Prince William Sound in coming years may be increased human presence, usage and poor management.

Annual visitors to the Sound are projected to increase 15-fold by 2015.

"We are literally threatening to use - and love - the Sound to death," said Patrick Lavin, NWF's Prince William Sound project manager.

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