Federal Interagency Teams Assist Dry Western StatesWASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns have activated Interagency Drought Action Teams to coordinate drought relief to communities in Western states that face the greatest potential water shortages this summer.
"Much of the Pacific Northwest has been hard hit by drought this year," Norton said. "Despite recent spring rains, some areas in the region will experience severe water shortages later this summer. These Drought Action Teams will bring focus to federal drought programs in communities hit by those shortages."
Although the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture have different approaches and tools for addressing drought conditions, teams specialists from both agencies based in the West are working in conjunction with state governments to address drought conditions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and other states as needs are identified.
"In our ongoing efforts to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities impacted by drought, we are working with states and local communities to take action where the greatest needs exist," Johanns said. "By focusing on this issue early, we will be able to better target our drought-relief assistance to farmers and ranchers in these states in the critical months ahead."
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, said, "We've had good support from the federal government on this issue - particularly in south-central Washington, where the federal Bureau of Reclamation is working with state and tribal authorities to make sure we can use our available water resources as effectively as possible."
Gregoire declared a drought emergency in the state in March, based on the extremely low snow pack in the mountains and record low flows in many rivers across the state.
"But this drought makes it clear we have to get ahead of the problem, so we are better prepared to deal with future droughts," Gregoire said. "That's why I support efforts to increase water storage in Washington state."
Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, has declared drought emergencies in 18 Idaho counties. "All levels of government must work in close coordination to confront the challenges we face as a result of this severe drought," he said. "Despite the relatively wet and mild spring, this drought is not over. We must remain vigilant so our citizens are protected as best as possible."
Both departments offer a range of assistance programs. USDA programs that provide relief assistance include the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program administered by the Farm Service Agency, Crop Insurance through the Risk Management Agency, and the protection of rangeland forage from grasshopper outbreaks through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. When approved, producers in individual counties may be eligible for Emergency Loans and the Emergency Conservation Program administered by the Farm Service Agency.
In addition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical assistance to help producers plan and manage natural resources on private lands and administers the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to assist land managers with efficient water quantity management during drought conditions. The NRCS Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program provides water supply information, data that is used to manage water resources throughout the United States.
Interior's Bureau of Reclamation has authority for construction of temporary measures to alleviate drought conditions and can also assist with the construction of permanent wells. When drought is declared for an area, Reclamation can also undertake temporary contracts to provide water supplies and can use Reclamation facilities to store and convey drought relief water.
The Drought Action Team initiative stems from a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003 as part of Interior's Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West Program.
Interior and Agriculture established an Interagency Drought Coordination Task Force, co-chaired by the deputy secretary of each department, to identify areas with severe water supply problems that need immediate focused assistance and use the teams to mobilize appropriate federal resources to help communities and producers in need.
Information on USDA relief to farmers, ranchers and local communities is online at: http://disaster.usda.gov.
Information on the Drought Action Teams, the Memorandum of Understanding, and Interior's Water 2025 proposal are online at: http://www.doi.gov/water2025.
Indiana Farmers Paid to Adopt Conservation PracticesBROWNSBURG, Indiana, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - The state of Indiana and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Friday signed an agreement that establishes a $20.2 million Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to improve water quality for the Indianapolis and Evansville areas.
"Reducing agricultural runoff into the targeted watersheds improves the environment by enhancing habitat for wildlife, especially for threatened and endangered species," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner.
Conner attended the signing ceremony for the new CREP at Brownsburg with Indiana Lt. Governor Becky Skillman.
"This partnership will also improve water quality, and I encourage all eligible producers to participate," he said.
The Indiana CREP targets the enrollment of 7,000 acres in the Highland/Pigeon, Tippecanoe and Upper White River watersheds where sediment, nutrients, pesticides and herbicides run off from agricultural land.
Landowners can offer eligible cropland and marginal pastureland in these watersheds. Land enrolled in the program remains under contract for a period of 14 to 15 years.
In return for installing approved conservation practices, over the course of their contracts, CREP participants will receive incentive payments and cost-share assistance from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation, which also will provide annual rental payments for the duration of the contract.
The state of Indiana will contribute at least 20 percent of the overall costs of implementing the CREP and will offer 10 year contract extensions and permanent easements. Indiana will pay all costs associated with monitoring the state's water quality and provide technical assistance to develop conservation plans and implement practices.
The total cost over a 15 year period is estimated at $20.2 million, with the federal agency contributing $14.6 million and the state funding $5.6 million.
Signup for the Indiana CREP is scheduled to begin July 18, and will continue until enrollment goals are attained, or through December 31, 2007, whichever comes first.
The CREP, a part of the Conservation Reserve Program administered by USDA's Farm Service Agency, partners with states, tribal governments and private groups to address critical conservation issues.
The program has garnered strong support nationwide from agricultural producers and landowners, sports enthusiasts and environmentalists, and local and state governments since its start in 1997.
More information on the Indiana CREP is available at local FSA offices and on FSA's website at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/default.htm.
National Council of Churches Would Save Public LandsWASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - The Eco-Justice Program of the National Council of Churches USA has launched a new 10 state Public Lands Initiative to address what the Council views as "growing threats to our nation's public lands and associated resources, particularly in the West."
The new initiative will focus on oil and gas development, which has "emerged as a major threat to the health and productivity of millions of the acres of western lands managed by the federal government," the Council warned.
"If not conducted responsibly," the Council said, "energy development can disturb or kill wildlife, degrade soil quality, pollute water sources, scar landscapes, destroy cultural artifacts, and disrupt other uses of the land, such as ranching and recreation."
"We try always to respond to God's call to be stewards of creation," said Methodist Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC, and a former U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania.
"In the case of our public lands, we want to ensure that they are managed responsibly, in a manner that protects these shared resources that sustain our cultures and economies and God's glorious web of life," he said. "For people of faith, there's too much at stake on our public lands and the threats are too great not to get involved."
Through worship, education, and advocacy, the NCC initiative aims to begin "answering the Biblical call to protect and redeem God's lands."
The initiative is coordinated by Christine Hoekenga of Nevada who most recently worked at the Natural Resource Defense Council in Washington, DC.
"We have a lot to celebrate. The lands and wilderness God has entrusted to our care provide us with countless gifts from solitude, to recreational enjoyment, to food for our tables," said Hoekenga. "But we also have a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to protecting lands held in the public trust."
The campaign will mobilize people of faith to fight "irresponsible actions such as opening natural treasures and ecologically sensitive areas to drilling, weakening permit processes for drilling projects, and making energy development the top priority on public lands to the detriment of Western communities and wildlife," the Council said.
Included in the 10 states are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Washington.
One of the initiative's first projects will be to create a series of ecumenical worship materials to celebrate lands and raise consciousness about faithful stewardship.
NCC is encouraging congregations to join in service projects, such as trail maintenance or tree plantings, on National Public Lands Day, Saturday September 24.
Mayors Strengthen Their Commitment to Climate ProtectionPROVO, Utah, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - Mayors from 45 cities wound up a three day climate protection summit Tuesday hosted by actor and environmentalist Robert Redford at his Sundance Resort east of Provo.
The Sundance Summit: A Mayor's Gathering on Climate Protection was designed to encourage mayors across the country to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions in their cities without waiting for the federal government to act.
"You here are closest to the people," Redford told the mayors.
On Monday, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat, told the local leaders they have "a tremendous impact on people's lives."
"If we wait around for the Congress ... we are not going to address this problem," said Richardson, who served as energy secretary in the Clinton administration.
At their annual meeting in June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution requiring their cities "to meet or beat the target of reducing global warming pollution levels to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012."
This target is the emissions standards the United States would have had to meet under the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty ratified by 141 nations in February without U.S. participation. Only 35 industrialized nations are legally bound by the protocol to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.
The mayors learned about the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary greenhouse gas emissions trading market, and heard how Chicago Mayor Richard Daley encourages builders to install rooftop gardens like the one atop City Hall.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels used the gathering as an opportunity to promote his Climate Protection Agreement, launched on February 16, 2005, the day the Kyoto Protocol took effect. The Agreement parallels the Conference of Mayors' unanimous resolution and urges state and federal governments to do more to curb climate change.
The largest source of electricity for Seattle is hydropower, but Mayor Nickels told his counterparts of his concern that the drought across Washington state this year, and for the past 50 years, is cutting into the hydropower supply for his city.
He said the volume of the snowpack in the nearby Cascade mountains has declined by half since 1950, reducing the snowmelt that is used to generate clean electricity for the city.
City of Seattle officials predict a 40 percent increase in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Redford and the mayors agreed to have the Sundance Summit meet on an annual basis, and hold regional meetings in the interim to encourage more mayors and cities to join the group.
Lawsuit Challenges Animal Testing to Avoid Child Pesticide LimitsWASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed a lawsuit Monday to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop testing toxic substances on animals and using the results of those tests to indicate that children can be exposed to adult levels of pesticides without harm.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is a challenge to the EPA’s denial of a rulemaking petition filed jointly by the groups in September 2004.
The petition called on the EPA to stop requiring companies to conduct developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) testing on animals. The groups say the results of those tests are being used as a basis for providing children with less protection from pesticide risks than the law requires.
The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) requires that children’s exposure to pesticide residues be 10 times lower than that of adults, but the act contains a loophole. A smaller margin of safety can be used if the EPA has “reasonable certainty” that higher exposure levels will be safe for infants and children.
The plaintiff groups claim that "in defiance" of the intent of the law, the EPA is using this loophole and the results of animal tests as a basis for "large-scale abandonment" of the required protection factor for children.
A single developmental neurotoxicity study can kill upward of 2,500 animals, yet the plaintiff groups allege that the method "has never been properly validated to ensure that test results are even remotely predictive of chemical effects on human children."
In the absence of proper validation, the physicians and animal groups assert, the EPA cannot conclude with “reasonable certainty” that children will suffer no harm from exposure to higher levels of pesticide residues than the Food Quality Protection Act would otherwise allow.
The lawsuit contends that the EPA’s reliance on developmental neurotoxicity testing to permit deviations from the Food Quality Protection Act standard for children’s health and safety is "arbitrary, capricious, and in violation of the law."
“The EPA is killing thousands of animals in tests that are not validated and allowing chemical companies to experiment on children by exposing them to levels of chemicals with no scientific proof that those levels are safe,” says PETA Senior Vice President Mary Beth Sweetland.
“The effect of the EPA’s use of DNT is that children will receive substantially less protection from pesticide residues than if DNT testing had never been carried out,” she said.
Smoggy Days in June 2005 Triple Over Last June
WASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - The survey of public websites by the nonprofit organization Clean Air Watch found monitored readings of smoggy air in 38 states from California to Maine.
In their unofficial survey the Clean Air Watch volunteers found that in June there were nearly triple the number of monitored violations of the national health standard for smog compared to a year ago - 941 violations, compared to 329 in June 2004.
“This is a gasping reminder that smog remains a widespread and persistent public health problem,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “We cannot afford to cut new breaks for polluters if we are going to meet our public health standards.”
O’Donnell said the severity of the issue is underscored by recent studies which showed that smog can kill. Three independent research reviews all commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and published in the July issue of the journal "Epidemiology" linked daily levels of smog to an increased risk of death.
In the summer of 2003, the EPA decided to fund three separate research teams to investigate a controversial and unresolved question - whether the epidemiological literature to date suggested a relationship between ozone exposure and risk of premature death.
The EPA currently does not include this relationship in regulatory impact analyses, and changing or confirming this approach could influence air pollution policy in the United States and elsewhere, wrote the editors of the journal.
All three studies report "a small but substantial association between ozone levels and total mortality," they wrote.
Analyzing the three studies in the journal, Steven N. Goodman, who is with the departments of Oncology, Pediatrics, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote, "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has some nerve - in the sense of scientific courage. That is a trait not often associated with government agencies, but the risk the EPA took in commissioning the 3 analyses published in this issue of the journal must be recognized and applauded."
"The implications of this exercise go far beyond the question of the ozone mortality effect, the ostensible focus of these papers. In commissioning this examination in triplicate, the agency was testing not just the ozone-mortality hypothesis, but the methods of science itself - methods the EPA and others have used to justify regulations in many areas," wrote Goodman.
"If these methods had failed this test, there would have been broad repercussions for the entire field of environmental risk assessment, not to mention the field of evidence synthesis," he wrote.
The three groups used many different methods and assumptions. There were differences in the studies selected, the estimates used, the numbers abstracted, the models used, the conversion factors applied, the subgroups investigated, and the alternatives explored, Goodman explains.
When results were compared, the bottom lines were consistent - within a fraction of a percent. A 0.8 percent increase in immediate mortality per 10 parts per billion increase in average daily ozone over the year, with most or all of this risk concentrated in the warmer months.
O’Donnell said the smog statistics serve as a warning that the EPA’s recent Clean Air Interstate Rule, although a step in the right direction, will not be good enough to meet public health standards everywhere.
“State authorities will need to keep the right to take action against pollution blowing in from other states,” O’Donnell said.
Trudy the Titan Stinky Plant to Bloom in Berkeley
BERKELEY, California, July 13, 2005 (ENS) - A enormous flower that has the worst smell of any flower in the world, is about to bloom at the University of California's Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
Called the corpse flower or stinky plant, Amorphophallus titanium, known also as the Titan arum, has the largest flower-like structure in the plant world and a blossom that emits a fragrance resembling rotten flesh. The plant typically takes at least seven years of growth before it blooms. In this case, the plant is 10 years old.
Its owner, Bill Weaver of Sunnyvale, California, said he is loaning the plant to the botanical garden, not to keep his neighbors from complaining once it blooms, but to share it with the world.
"I couldn't just have it bloom here," he said last week from his home. "It would be like having a piece of priceless art and sticking it your attic."
Paul Licht, director of the botanical garden, said he is delighted to be able to share the plant with the public during the garden's open hours of 9 am to 5 pm daily.
The botanical garden has 10 other titan arums, but none have bloomed. All of the stinky plants now on exhibit at the garden have been raised from the same seed batch. They represent the full growth cycle of the plant over seven years, from the early corm phase to bloom.
"It's kind of rewarding to raise it from a baby state and to see it growing and blooming," said Weaver, who describes himself as a "plant nut" with interesting vegetation in all of his own four greenhouses.
In keeping with a national tradition of calling the plant by a human name beginning with the letter "T," Weaver dubbed his plant "Trudy the Titan" in honor of a neighbor who helped him build one of his greenhouses.
The plant species was first reported in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1878. Related to the family of plants called voodoo lilies, it produces one gigantic, branched leaf that looks like a small tree and reaches 10-15 feet in height.
The foul smell of its bloom draws flies and carrion beetles to pollinate the plant, which has an average life span of about 40 years.
The UC Botanical Garden, located at 200 Centennial Dr. in Strawberry Canyon just above the campus, hosts 12,800 different species and subspecies of plants, making it one of the largest and most diverse collections in the United States. It also has a large number of rare and endangered California native plants on display, with many of them part of its collection maintained for the national Center for Plant Conservation.