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AmeriScan: July 5, 2005

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Grounded Ship Leaking Oil in Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

HONOLULU, Hawaii, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - A motor vessel under contract to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for debris removal in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, ran aground early Saturday morning, causing severe damage to the ship and spilling oil into a designated marine reserve.

The 145 foot Casitas struck a reef on Pearl and Hermes Atoll and is taking on water some 1,000 miles northwest of Oahu and 86 nautical miles east southeast of Midway Island.

The ship grounded in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is inhabited by endangered monk seals and other protected species.

Due to the presence of an estimated 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 3,000 gallons of gasoline, and 200 gallons of lubricating oil onboard the vessel, the Captain of the Port of Honolulu, the federal on scene coordinator, has taken initial steps to manage any potential oil spill.

A Unified Command has been established with representatives from the vessel owner, the state of Hawaii, NOAA, and the Coast Guard to manage the incident salvage and environmental protection aspects of the incident.

The 23 people aboard - members of the crew and scientific personnel - have been safely transported to Midway Island by the NOAA research vessel, Oscar Elton Sette. A C-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point is planning to transport them to Oahu today.

The ship's crew had deployed a pollution absorbent boom around part of the ship and transferred fuel from one tank to another, actions that may have stopped the leak, Coast Guard officials said.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barber's Point dropped four dewatering pumps Saturday morning that were used by the ship's crew. An aerial surveillance mission flown by the plane on Sunday showed a 500 yard rainbow colored sheen in the water near the vessel.

A C-130 overflight crew on Monday observed a light sheen extending about half a mile south of the vessel.

The Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, equipped with a Spilled Oil Recovery System to assist with clean up efforts, is en route from Oahu, and is expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The Casitas was en route to Maro Reef and French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to remove derelict fishing nets that wash up on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, smothering the reefs and posing a danger of entanglement to marine life.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were designated a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000 by Executive Order of President Bill Clinton. NOAA is in the midst of a public process that could designate the 1,200 mile long archipelago as the nation's 14th national marine sanctuary.

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Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales Produce 28 Calves

WASHINGTON, DC, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - So few North Atlantic Right Whales remain that the birth of each and every calf is a noteable event to marine biologists of NOAA Fisheries Service who are tasked with recovery of the critically endangered species.

This year, biologists have sighted 28 North Atlantic right whale mother-calf pairs, making this one of the best calving years on record for these rare animals.

The 28th mother and calf pair was confirmed on Friday when the New England Aquarium verified that the pair observed off South Carolina by NOAA biologists is the same pair observed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

"With so few of these right whales left - approximately 300 - we are very excited about sighting another mother-calf pair," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director.

"Although this latest calf is small, it looks healthy and strong at this point," Hogarth said.

Although the calf seems small for this time of year, NOAA biologist Barb Zoodsma says she is optimistic about its overall condition, based on the calf's behavior and interaction with its mother.

"On the surface, it looks like we might have good news for right whales this year," said Zoodsma. "Twenty-eight right whale mother-calf pairs makes this one of the best years in a long time for right whales."

North Atlantic right whales were hunted nearly to extinction until a global commercial whaling moratorium was imposed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission.

Since then, the record year for North Atlantic right whale breeding was 2001, when researchers confirmed 31 new right whale calves.

But a lot can happen to right whale calves before they reach maturity, Zoodsma said. "Not all of these calves will survive to adulthood, when they can reproduce and contribute back to the population."

Zoodsma said the most important segments of the right whale population are reproducing adults - particularly females. Recovery of these whales has been hindered due to injuries and mortalities caused through collisions with vessels or entanglement in fishing gear. Several pregnant females have been found dead on the East Coast this year.

The North Atlantic right whale lives in coastal or shelf waters. They move south in winter to calve and nurse their young in coastal waters off the southeastern United States. Then in summer they migrate north to feeding grounds in New England waters and farther north to Canada's Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf.

"Right whales are critically endangered," Hogarth said. "NOAA Fisheries Service is working in a number of different ways to try to stop their decline, and to help find ways to help them survive, but we have a lot of very tough challenges. Our oceans are busy places, and the right whale faces many dangers."

The agency works in partnership with states and with private organizations, such as the New England Aquarium, to track distribution, abundance, births and deaths among these animals.

The North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Plan promotes recovery of the species through a framework of management and research efforts. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 requires recovery plans to serve as guidelines for action to promote the conservation and recovery of listed species.

The agency is also working to reduce risks to large whales posed by vessel traffic and fishing off the East Coast. Sighting surveys are an important part of this work and serve several purposes such as identifying new calves, determining when and where right whales are likely to congregate along the U.S. East Coast, and documenting dead, injured or entangled whales.

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Appalachian Mountaintop Removal Mining Target of Anti-G8 Action

RICHMOND, Virginia, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - The Mountain Justice Summer Campaign is planning to use July 8th - designated as a Day of Action Against Climate Change by anti-G8 organizers - to further their campaign against mountaintop removal coal mining.

Abigial Singer of the Mountain Justice Summer Campaign (MJSC) says, "Organizers in Appalachia have been in kahoots with organizers in Venezuela, plotting a hemisphere-wide alliance of grassroots groups fighting the coal industry. After all, the coal companies are international; it only makes sense that the resistance be as well."

"This network will ideally include folks from the coalfields, indigenous people whose land and sovereignty are being threatened by coal companies, environmental justice groups who are dealing with the health effects of coal-fired power plants, and others who are negatively impacted by coal extraction, processing, transportation or burning," Singer said.

On Friday, the last day of the G8 Summit, the people of Appalachia and others from across the east coast will descend on Monroe Park in Richmond, Virginia to confront a coal company that organizers call "one of the most ruthless" in the United States, Massey Energy Company.

"More pounds of explosives are used to destroy the mountains of West Virginia each day than were used during the entire U.S. invasion of Afghanistan!" the campaigners say. The coal company blasts the tops off of mountains to get to the thin seams of coal that lie beneath.

The leftover rock is pushed into valleys, burying the streams many Appalachian communities depend on for food and water.

"Massey is systematically destroying the mountains and people of Southern Appalachia" through mountaintop removal, the Mountain Justice Summer Campaign says. In West Virginia alone, mountaintop removal mining has leveled over 500 square miles of mountains and buried over 1,200 miles of streams.

The campaigners point to the coalfield residents who have been poisoned by the coal dust in the air and heavy metals released into the water.

"Those who have chosen to resist these atrocities have had their children intimidated, their lives threatened, and their houses shot at," MJSC says.

"Historically," says MJSC, "coal companies have engaged in violence and property destruction when faced with citizen opposition to their activities," but the campaigners say they are "committed to nonviolence and will not be engaged in property destruction."

On the other end of the production line, they point out, coal burning has led to "skyrocketing" asthma rates, "rampant" mercury poisoning, and "contributed significantly to global warming."

The campaigners say there is "growing resistance to the coal barons who have turned Appalachia into a national sacrifice zone," and say they can no longer stand by "as our air is polluted, our water poisoned, our mountains destroyed, and our communities terrorized by these careless corporate thugs."

They see a connection between their struggle and that of the indigenous people in Venezuela who are protesting large-scale coal development projects whose profits they know will not benefit their local community.

Massey Energy Company, headquartered in Richmond, with 19 mining complexes in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the fourth largest coal company in the United States based on produced coal revenue.

Massey is polishing its green image. On June 21, the company honored the winner of its first annual Green Miner Award for calendar year 2004 at a banquet in Charleston, West Virginia.

"The Green Miner Award will be awarded each year to the Massey group with the best environmental performance," said Don Blankenship, Massey's chairman and CEO. "It recognizes diligence and initiative in environmental compliance and reflects our ongoing commitment to doing the right thing - for Massey, our communities and the environment."

Massey subsidiary Sidney Coal Company, located in Sidney, Kentucky was the 2004 winner of the Green Miner Award.

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Conservation Plan Issued for Detroit River International Refuge

DETROIT, Michigan, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved and released to the public the Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The plan is the culmination of a planning effort that involved local officials, industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations and interested citizens.

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge was established law on December 21, 2002. The first international refuge in North America, it will conserve, protect and restore habitat for 29 species of waterfowl, 65 kinds of fish and 300 species of migratory birds along the lower Detroit River in Michigan and Canada.

The authorized refuge boundary includes islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals and shore lands along 48 miles of the Lower Detroit River and Lake Erie shoreline to the state of Ohio border.

Major achievements expected over the life of the plan include protecting coastal habitats, islands and other unique habitats, establishing a visitors’ center, developing a network of refuge volunteers, and fostering partnerships to assist the refuge in achieving wildlife and habitat goals.

"The plan continues to embrace the spirit of public-private partnerships to conserve fish and wildlife resources in the Detroit River area, as well as provide for a future refuge headquarters and visitor center," said Refuge Manager John Hartig.

The plan articulates management goals for the next 15 years and specifies the objectives and strategies needed to accomplish these goals.

"While the planned future condition is long-term, we anticipate that the plan will be updated every five to 10 years based on information gained through monitoring habitat and wildlife, as well as recreational usage," Hartig said.

A primary theme throughout the Comprehensive Conservation Plan is the potential to establish partnerships to attain the purpose and goals of the fefuge. Potential partners include communities, industries, governments, citizens, and nonprofit organizations, and some partnerships are already in place.

Hartig hopes to develop an active pool of volunteers once a dedicated staff person, especially a public use specialist, is assigned to the refuge.

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan emphasizes that fishing and hunting opportunities will be increased as the refuge land base grows, except where contaminant exposure, local regulations, safety or the needs of sensitive species prohibit such uses.

The former Daimler-Chrysler tract, owned by Wayne County, is the proposed site of a future headquarters and visitor center. Wayne County, or another agency, will own the structures and lease space to a number of organizations, including the Service. The facilities will incorporate a “green,” or environment friendly, design that reflects the character of the river.

Other public use facilities could include trails and boardwalks accessible to disabled users, interpretive signage, observation decks with spotting scopes, wildlife viewing blinds, photography blinds, fishing platforms, outdoor vault toilets along the trails, benches, and an outdoor classroom pavilion.

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan identifies key remnant coastal wetlands, islands, and other wildlife habitats that could be protected and/or restored through partnership efforts.

By 2015, no less that 40 percent of the remaining coastal wetland and island habitat on public and private lands within the Refuge boundary will be protected through fee, easements, and cooperative agreements.

The complete Comprehensive Conservation Plan and a summary is online at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/planning/detroitriver/index.html.

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Smuggling of Rare Tortoises a Growing Concern

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - Robert Chung Yip Kwong of San Francisco is scheduled to report to federal prison on September 9 where he will serve a five months sentence for smuggling live tortoises into the United States.

U.S. District Judge Susan Ilston in San Francisco handed down the sentence June 24 after Kwong pleaded guilty to three felony charges of smuggling live tortoises and one misdemeanor count of violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

After his release from prison, Kwong must serve five months home detention and he will have to pay the cost of electronic monitoring during his home detention.

Three types of live tortoises, including endangered radiated tortoises from Madagascar, were found in packages addressed to Kwong under a fictitious name when federal agents seized them in December 2003.

The packages contained live Indian star tortoises and Burmese star tortoises as well as the endangered radiated tortoises.

Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and inspectors with the U.S. Postal Service conducted the investigation.

"He was commercially smuggling internationally protected species and endangered species into the United States using express mail," said Special Agent Kenneth McCloud of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The illegal trade in tortoises is growing, McCloud said. "In the last few years we've seen a huge increase in the number of these species being smuggled into the United States," he said. "In the past three years alone, we've seized about 500 tortoises."

The charges against Kwong relate to 36 tortoises. Another 33 tortoises were seized from Kwong's house but not included in the charges.

Radiated tortoises have been protected under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1973. With their distinctive markings and dramatic colors, the tortoises, which can grow to 18 inches long, are popular among collectors. Baby radiated tortoises, such as those smuggled by Kwong, are valued at $1,250 each.

Besides being popular with pet collectors, radiated tortoises also are sought for traditional Asian medicine.

"They're not only being hit by the pet collection trade, they're being hit by poachers for the Asian medicinal market," McCloud said.

Burmese star tortoises are even more valuable, with adults selling for up to $7,000 apiece and juveniles worth about half that much.

Although they are not listed under the Endangered Species Act, Burmese star tortoises are extremely rare. They are found only in a national preserve in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

While it is not illegal to possess tortoises that were legally imported, smuggling them in without the required permits is against the law.

After agents seize the tortoises they are screened for disease and treated, if needed, and placed in zoos. The tortoises seized from the illegal shipments to Kwong were placed in zoos in Texas and New York.

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Cleanup of Chemicals Threatening New Jersey Drinking Water Begins

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - Alliant Techsystems has begun a $1.25 million groundwater and soil cleanup at the Rockaway Township Wells Superfund site in Morris County.

"This cleanup finally begins restoration of groundwater resources so vital to the Rockaway Township community," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

Contamination found in the 1980s at the Superfund site originated from the former Naval Industrial Reserve Plant, which is now the Denville Technical Park and located near the township's drinking water wells.

Underground storage tanks and degreasing units at the former Naval Industrial Reserve Plant held a variety of materials including solvents with trichloroethylene, which were sources of the pollution.

At that time, Rockaway Township installed an activated carbon adsorption system and air-stripping unit at the township's drinking water wells to treat groundwater prior to distribution to ensure a safe public water supply.

The Rockaway Township Wells site was placed on the Superfund list in 1983 after the volatile organic compounds and gasoline additives were detected. Currently, the township uses only the air-stripping unit for routine water treatment at its drinking water well system, but still uses the carbon adsorption treatment system whenever the air-stripping unit is taken out of service for maintenance or repair.

The new treatment system is designed to extract 68 gallons per minute of contaminated groundwater and 450 cubic feet per minute of contaminated vapors. There are 12 soil vapor extraction wells, three groundwater extraction wells and three dual-phase extraction wells that extract both vapors and groundwater.

Constructed at the Denville Technical Park, the new treatment system began operating June 6 to extract and treat soil vapors and groundwater contaminated beneath the site. The extracted groundwater is treated in an air-stripping unit and discharged to the Beaver Brook. The extracted vapors are treated in an activated carbon unit and discharged to the atmosphere.

Alliant Techsystems is responsible for constructing and operating the treatment system. Although Alliant Techsystems did not contaminate the site, it assumed the responsibility for the cleanup in 2001 when it became a corporate successor of the operators of the former Naval Industrial Reserve Plant. The total cost of remediation work at the Rockaway Township Wells site is approximately $4 million.

"Responsible party funding for the cleanup saves taxpayers money while providing for long-term monitoring of the site," said Campbell.

Alliant Techsystems also is responsible for the operation and maintenance costs of the air-stripping unit on Rockaway Township's drinking water wells.

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Convicted: Alabama Executives Put Wastewater Down Storm Drains

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama, July 5, 2005 (ENS) - McWane Inc., and three of the company's employees have been found guilty by a federal grand jury of environmental crimes connected with the operation of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama.

Last month, the jury found the company, James Delk, and Michael Devine guilty of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act by discharging industrial wastewater through storm drains into Avondale Creek in Birmingham in violation of their permit.

Investigators of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and Jefferson County Storm Water Management Authority, as well as special agents of the FBI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supplied the information on which this case was based.

McWane is a Delaware corporation, headquartered in Birmingham, which operates iron foundries at various locations across the country. Sentencing of the company and its employees has been set before U.S. District Judge Robert Propst on October 25, 2005.

McWane Inc., and Delk were also convicted of 18 counts of discharging pollutants into Avondale Creek between May 1999 and January 2001. Devine was also convicted of seven counts of discharging pollutants into Avondale Creek between May 1999 and January 2000.

In a related count, McWane Inc., and Charles "Barry" Robison were convicted of making a false statement to the EPA.

Delk is a former vice president and general manager at the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company who now works at a McWane facility in New York.

Devine is a former plant manager at McWane Cast Iron Pipe Company who now works for McWane in New Jersey.

Robison, of Birmingham, is the vice president for Environmental Affairs at McWane.

"The defendants polluted Alabama's environment and engaged in a concerted effort to cover it up," said EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator Thomas Skinner. "These convictions demonstrate that companies and their senior executives will be held responsible for environmental crimes."

Delk and Devine face a maximum sentence on the conspiracy count of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. On the Clean Water Act charges they face a maximum fine of $50,000 per day of violation and three years in prison.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kelly Johnson said, "The guilty verdicts reflect the Justice Department's unwavering commitment to enforce the nation's environmental laws and prosecute those who break them. Companies and corporate officials who put production and profits above the welfare of the public and the environment will be brought to justice."

For McWane Inc., the maximum penalty for the conspiracy and Clean Water Act charges is a fine of the greater of $500,000 or $50,000 per day of violation and probation of five years.

On the false statement charge, the maximum penalty for McWane Inc., is a fine of $500,000 and five years probation, and the maximum penalty for Robison is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said, "This verdict sends a clear message that corporate defendants as well as individuals will be held accountable for their criminal conduct in violating the Clean Water Act. I trust this conviction will result in greater efforts by 'corporate America' to prevent future pollution and provide cleaner water for the citizens of Alabama. The government will seek significant fines and custody for those convicted of these offenses."

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