AmeriScan: July 14, 2005

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Mad Cow Case: Court Unblocks Cattle Imports from Canada

SEATTLE, Washington, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned a preliminary injunction preventing live Canadian cattle from being imported into the United States issued by a federal judge in Montana last March.

The injunction was imposed by Judge Richard Cebull in a case brought by the cattle industry organization R-CALF USA. The cattlemen sought to keep Canadian cattle out of the United States after mad cow disease was found in several Canadian animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) closed the border to Canadian animals in May 2003 after mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, was found in an Alberta cow. The first U.S. case of the disease was found in December 2003 in an animal imported from Canada.

Because mad cow disease takes years to develop and occurs in older animals, the USDA had planned to reopen the border to Canadian cattle under 30 months of age, under a rule the agency issued last December that classifies Canada as a "minimal risk" country for mad cow disease. The minimal risk ruling was offered to Canada because the USDA says sanitary practices and testing are now sufficient to keep the disease out of the food supply.

The border was to reopen on March 7, until R-CALF was granted the preliminary injunction.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said, “R-CALF is confident that when we have a full hearing on the merits of the case, we will demonstrate to the district court that USDA’s actions are premature and unjustified."

"R-CALF USA remains confident that USDA’s Final Rule was not justified," said Bullard, "and that USDA did not provide significant justification for overturning a longstanding policy that protected both the U.S. cattle herd and U.S. consumers from the introduction of BSE."

“USDA’s Final Rule is based merely on a reinterpretation of existing science that has been around for years," Bullard said. "USDA is motivated by political considerations of wanting to resume trade with Canada."

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns applauded the appeals court's decision. "Because the ruling is effective immediately, we are immediately taking steps to resume the importation of cattle under 30 months of age from Canada," he said.

"USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is already in contact with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to prepare to certify cattle for shipment. We have been safely importing boneless boxed beef from Canada since September 2003, and now we will use the scientific approach laid out in our minimal risk rule to once again safely import live Canadian cattle for processing."

"This is great news for the future of the U.S. beef industry, specifically the many ranchers, feeders, and processing plants that have been struggling to make ends meet due to the closed border," said Johanns. "It also bolsters our position with other international trading partners by following the very advice we have given them to base trade decisions on sound science."

Johanns has been negotiating with Japan, China and other trading partners to get them to lift their trading bans on U.S. beef imposed in December 2003.

"This is wonderful news that has been long awaited," says Stan Eby, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, representing over 90,000 Canadian cattle producers.

"The Court has taken a huge step toward re-establishing normal trade in live cattle and beef products and has recognized the science-based and proper regulatory approach taken by the United States Department of Agriculture. I hope that all the necessary paperwork will soon be in place so that we may see the first shipments of cattle crossing the border in short order."

Mad cow disease and its human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, are spread by prions - abnormally shaped proteins that originate as regular components of neurological tissues in animals.

Mad cow disease spreads from one animal to another by consumption of feed that has been contaminated by these proteins, contained in the nervous system tissues of an infected animal. The human form of the disease can be transmitted if a human being eats BSE infected meat, or through blood transfusions. About 150 people have died worldwide from the disease.

At a press conference after the ruling, the American Meat Institute's General Counsel Mark Dopp offered assurances that beef, American and Canadian, is safe. He was more concerned with the economic impact of the border closure. “A number of facilities across the country, mainly in the northern tier, are running at 80 to 85 percent of capacity, working five days instead of six, and some plants have gone dark because there just aren’t enough cattle,” said Dopp.

The hearing into R-CALF's application for a permanent injunction against the import of Canadian cattle will still go ahead on July 27 in U.S. District Court, Montana Division.

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Automakers, Energy Department Invest in High Performance Batteries

DEARBORN, Michigan, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and leaders of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) today announced an agreement to invest in development of advanced high performance batteries for electric, hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicles.

The investment could amount to $125 million over five years, Bodman said.

USCAR is the umbrella organization of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors, which was formed in 1992 to further strengthen the technology base of the domestic auto industry through cooperative research.

Joining Bodman in signing today's agreements at the Automotive Hall of Fame were Mark Chernoby, DaimlerChrysler vice president of advanced vehicle engineering; Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, Ford vice president for research and advanced engineering; and Thomas Gottschalk, GM executive vice president of law and public policy and general counsel.

“Bringing together the best minds in industry, government and academia will develop technology faster and more cost effectively than any one organization could do alone,” said USCAR Executive Director Bill Gouse.

In Michigan to highlight this agreement and a similar one that will invest up to $70 million to develop lightweight, high-strength materials that increase fuel efficiency through a reduction of vehicle weight, Bodman said the Bush administration is dedicated to new energy technologies.

"Industry, government and academic partnerships like the ones announced today are key to securing our nation’s energy future," Secretary Bodman said. "Energy-efficient technologies that will result from our work have the potential to significantly help American families by reducing fuel costs and preserving our environment."

The new $125 million agreement is set for three years with two one-year continuing options in which the government and industry will share the costs of research.

Combined with the $70 million agreement initially signed in May, this brings the total joint investments in vehicle technologies to a potential $195 million over the next five years.

As part of the new agreement, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) FreedomCAR Program and USCAR’s U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium will split the cost of research and development for a number of new battery materials and technologies that have the potential to increase energy storage and charge/discharge performance, improvedurability and reliability and reduce cost.

The DOE/USCAR partnership has been ongoing for more than 10 years. It has developed the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery technology used in all current, commercially available, light-duty hybrid electric vehicles.

In addition, the Advanced Battery Consortium also is pursuing the development of advanced lithium ion systems. This emerging technology offers the promise of compact, longer-life, high power and high energy batteries for electric, hybrid-electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles.

Battery developers can leverage their resources in combination with those of the automotive industry and the federal government, through the Advanced Battery Consortium. This pre-competitive cooperation is intended to minimize duplication of effort and risk of failure, and maximize the benefits to the public of government funds.

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Conservationists Take EPA to Court Over Mercury Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s rule establishing a cap-and-trade system for reductions of mercury emissions.

The National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, filed their challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance have joined the suit.

The plaintiff groups argue that although Bush administration's cap-and-trade rule may provide some limits on mercury emissions, the rule will not take full effect until 2018, providing a much lower emissions standard than what is already required under the Clean Air Act.

The plaintiffs defend their litigation challenging the cap-and-trade rule against those who claim a lawsuit will slow any mercury reductions. They say the suit could defeat a weak rule that already allows for much longer mercury attainment goals than those already required by the Clean Air Act.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that interrupts the development of children's brains, even in the womb. In 2004, EPA scientists cited new research showing that 630,000 U.S. newborns had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood in 1999-2000.

In a January 26 presentation at the EPA's National Forum on Contaminants in Fish, in San Diego, EPA biochemist Kathryn Mahaffey said researchers had shown that mercury levels in a fetus's umbilical cord blood are 70 percent higher than those in the mother's blood.

The Bush administration stands behind its mercury rule, saying it is the first rule to regulate emissions of mercury. On March 15, 2005, the EPA issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants for the first time ever.

But the plaintiff groups argue that the cap-and-trade system falls short of mercury reductions originally mandated under the Clean Air Act.

This lawsuit, as well as litigation filed May 18 challenging another portion of the EPA’s power plant rule, challenges the agency to develop stronger emission standards.

The cap-and-trade rule creates an overall industry cap on the amount of mercury emissions as well as a mercury trading market where individual plants can trade credits.

The plaintiff groups object to the rule, saying it allows plants to avoid reducing their emissions and increasing mercury levels in some areas.

For instance, Texas power plants currently release some 10,000 pounds of mercury each year. Under the EPA’s proposed cap-and-trade system, Texas will be required to reduce its mercury output to 9,314 pounds annually between 2010 and 2017.

This seven percent reduction will do little to reduce the threat of mercury contamination in the state’s waterways and lakes, the plaintiffs say.

Three of Texas’ coal-burning power plants are among the top 15 highest mercury emitters in the country. Under EPA’s rule, two of these plants - Martin Lake and Limestone - could actually increase their overall mercury emissions through 2017.

“Texas is the perfect example manifesting how flawed EPA’s approach at mercury reduction really is,” said Dr. Ramon Alvarez, a scientist with the Texas office of Environmental Defense. “Our state has the highest mercury pollution levels in the country, but EPA is allowing some of the dirtiest plants to increase their pollution."

Forty-five states have advisories against fish consumption due to mercury contamination. Water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay experience unhealthy levels of mercury, limiting fishing and other recreational activities.

“I plan to have children in the next two years and I eat fish from the Chesapeake Bay region,” said Ally Gontang, an employee and member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “However, I have had my hair tested for mercury and my level is above EPA’s alert for women of childbearing years. My fiancé and I are both saddened by and mad at EPA’s actions.”

Many of those who rely on subsistence fishing view the EPA rule as dangerous because it keeps mercury laden emissions pouring into the air and being deposited on waters where they fish.

“EPA's rule is an assault on our tribal people and culture,” said Eric Nicolar, the air quality manager for the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine. “Our 1,100 members are being forced to subsist on mercury laden fish taken from the Penobscot River every day. Under EPA's illegal cap and trade scheme, the Ohio Valley coal-fired power plants will be free to poison our sacred waterways with mercury for many more years to come.”

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NOAA Will Protect Deep Sea Corals from Trawlers

WASHINGTON, DC, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, today responded positively to a petition received from Oceana, a nongovernmental organization, which requested emergency regulations to protect deep-ocean coral and sponge habitat from mobile bottom-tending fishing gear.

Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries Service, announced plans to develop a comprehensive, national strategy for long-term research and conservation of deep-ocean coral and sponge habitat.

"We agree with Oceana that deep-sea corals and sponges are a critical part of marine ecosystems and must be protected," said Hogarth. "After careful consideration of their petition and public comment we believe this comprehensive approach will allow us to inventory deep-sea coral and sponge habitats and take necessary action to protect them, if measures aren't already in place."

While the new strategy is under development, NOAA will continue to map deep-sea coral and sponge habitats and conduct research to increase understanding of them.

Though the issues outlined in the petition do not meet the criteria as an "emergency" as defined in the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, they are important issues, the agency said.

Certain fishing practices, especially mobile bottom-tending gear - including dredges, beam and otter trawls, and other mobile fishing gear that is dragged along the ocean floor - can damage deep-sea corals and sponges, and the marine wildlife that depends upon them for habitat, the agency said.

Hogarth said NOAA Fisheries Service and the regional fishery management councils this year took several steps to protect coral habitat.

In February 2005, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted closures to protect deep coral and other habitats in 280,000 square nautical miles in the Aleutian Islands. This amendment allows bottom trawling to continue in the Aleutian Islands in areas that have supported the highest catches in the past, and prohibits bottom trawling in all other portions of the Aleutian Islands management region to prevent future impacts to undisturbed habitats in those areas.

In April 2005, NOAA Fisheries Service approved the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council closures of Oceanographer and Lydonia Canyons to bottom trawling for monkfish, which will also protect important deep-sea coral habitat.

In June 2005, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted closures to commercial bottom trawl fishing for Pacific Groundfish in approximately 200,000 square nautical miles of benthic habitat on the West Coast between the Canadian and Mexican borders. These regulations will take effect upon approval by NOAA Fisheries Service.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the deep-sea coral and sponge conservation and management strategy at a later date, NOAA said.

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Alaska Fish Populations Taking a Dive

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - The North Pacific ecosystem along Alaska's coast that generates half America's $2 billion annual seafood catch could collapse unless the problems are addressed when Congress reauthorizes the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, an Alaska conservation group warns in a new report.

The Alaska Oceans Program issued its report ahead of the Alaska Oceans Festival on Saturday.

The report, "Vital Signs in North Pacific: Code Blue for the Ocean," found that from seafloor crabs to seabirds, many populations of marine life have experienced "alarming" declines in recent decades.

Alaska Oceans says the take of fish and other animals and birds is at unsustainable levels due to "a combination of policy decisions, economic pressures, and collapses of fishable populations in other regions."

"The North Pacific waters seemingly limitless productivity gives rise to the alluring illusion that the ecosystem is healthy enough to sustain this bounty into perpetuity," said Mark Spalding, senior program officer of the Alaska Oceans Program, which funded the study.

"In truth," Spalding warned, "it may be slowly dying, contrary to recent congressional testimony by the National Marine Fisheries Service."

Spalding was referring to testimony July 6 before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans during a hearing on reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs the regional fisheries councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

"The North Pacific is a highly productive ecosystem with no depleted or overfished groundfish stocks," testified Sue Salveson, NMFS assistant regional administrator for sustainable fisheries in the Alaska Region.

"Our success is driven by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's tenet to adhere to the underlying science provided by NMFS, the state of Alaska, universities, and other independent scientists," Salveson told the lawmakers.

The Alaska Oceans report found little basis for Salveson's statement. The status of most of the 194 fish populations managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is unknown, the report found, making it impossible for managers to make informed decisions affecting their health.

"In just two decades, the fisheries have wiped out four out of the five female pollock of reproductive age in the Gulf of Alaska," the Alaska Oceans report states.

At least 55,000 fishing industry jobs depend on healthy Alaska fish populations.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has failed to address the question of how removing huge numbers of fish and other marine animals affects other parts of the ecosystem. "Management rules determining allowable catch levels of exploited populations are not scientifically based on what is sustainable for marine ecosystems," the report warns.

Alaska Oceans says the amount of wasted birds, mammals and other non-target species killed as a byproduct of fishing "regularly reaches 300 million pounds in a year."

During the past 50 years, the total catch in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska has grown more than one hundred fold - from less than 31.6 million pounds and two species - to nearly 4.77 billion pounds, and several dozen species, the Code Blue report says.

During this same period, the number of seabirds such as the common murre, spectacled eider, and short-tailed albatross dropped by up to 96 percent. Marine mammals including harbor seals, sea otters, and northern fur seals are also declining, according to the report.

Spalding warned, "If the status quo continues, declines in a vast array of marine life ranging from fish to crabs to birds to mammals could lead to extinction of threatened and endangered species, and other cascading effects, including the collapse of the North Pacific ecosystem."

To read the full report, visit: www.alaskaoceans.org

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Law Must Be Rewritten to Safeguard Puget Sound Shorelines

TACOMA, Washington, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - Cities and counties must protect habitat along Puget Sound shorelines for salmon and other fish, according to a decision issued by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board.

The decision came in response to an appeal of the Pierce County Critical Areas Ordinance filed by People For Puget Sound and the Citizens for a Healthy Bay last fall.

Earthjustice filed the appeal on behalf of the conservation groups, calling for revisions to the ordinance to protect marine shorelines. As currently written, the ordinance designates protections for eel grass beds, kelp forests, and other offshore habitats but contains no protections for marine shorelines themselves.

“Now we have the opportunity to protect our shorelines,” said Stan Cummings, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay. “To protect our quality of life and the enormous investment this community has made in cleaning up Commencement Bay, we can now work together with the county on an ordinance that protects marine shorelines and beaches that we all treasure.”

People For Puget Sound has set a goal to protect and restore 2,000 miles of shoreline over the next 10 years.

The shorelines and intertidal zones provide habitat for clams oysters, crabs, and many other creatures, including spawning habitat for herring and other small fish that salmon and other large fish feed on.

Orca whales feed on the salmon, and the fact that both have been listed under the Endangered Species Act demonstrates that the entire Puget Sound ecosystem is in trouble.

People For Puget Sound and Citizens for a Healthy Bay decided to appeal Pierce County’s Critical Areas Ordinance after a last minute change in the ordinance removed buffer protections for marine shorelines.

The groups argued that the best available science demonstrates that juvenile salmon use Puget Sound beach habitats for feeding and resting on their way out to sea and that these habitats can only be preserved through buffers that retain natural vegetation.

“This decision shows Washington is serious about protecting Puget Sound and the quality of life we enjoy here,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound. “Local governments have a critical role to play, and the Hearings Board has wisely given us a second chance to save these critically important habitats.”

In response to public concern that unplanned growth was negatively affecting the region’s quality of life, the Washington State legislature enacted the Growth Management Act in 1991.

One of the act’s key requirements is that counties and cities enact critical areas ordinances to identify and protect the natural environment’s most important areas, such as wetlands, creeks, rivers, lakes, marine waters, landslide-prone areas, areas that recharge drinking water supplies, and flood zones.

Protecting these resources is essential to keeping drinking water clean, lakes, rivers and the Sound swimmable, homes safe from floods, erosion, and landslides, fisheries healthy, and wildlife thriving for future generations to enjoy.

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Wells Fargo Environmental Policy Called Day Late, Dollar Short

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Rainforest Action Network carried out its public protest of Wells Fargo Bank's environmental policies on Wednesday, despite a commitment Monday by the bank to offer $1 billion over five years to "environmentally-beneficial business opportunities."

The forest conservation group has been successful over the past five years in establishing best banking practices for environmental conservation that have been adopted by Bank of America, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase.

Activists demonstrated at Wells Fargo's San Francisco headquarters as scheduled, with protesters calling for "less PR and more progress" on global warming, endangered ecosystems and human rights.

On Monday, the bank issued a statement saying it would support sustainable forestry, renewable energy, water resource management, waste management, energy efficiency, and “green” home construction and development.

The bank promised to adopt by December 31 new environmental due diligence procedures and practices for middle-market and large corporate customers in environmentally-sensitive industries.

The bank pledged to adopt the Equator Principles, based on World Bank and International Finance Corporation guidelines to improve environmental and social risk management in project financing.

The bank promised to seek to expand opportunities for customers to qualify for energy-efficient mortgage products and will look for partnerships and other opportunities to encourage the construction and development of green homes designed to conserve energy and water, promote indoor air quality, and minimize environmental impacts.

The company will "collect data on energy and greenhouse gas emissions from all the facilities it owns and, where possible, those facilities it leases, to track and help minimize the effect on the environment from its operations."

The company said it "will solicit input from customers, industry groups and environmental groups during the process."

But Rainforest Action Network's executive director Michael Brune said Wells Fargo could do more. "We're pleased that it's a start, but they haven't even matched what other banks are doing," he said.

The bank and the conservation group are headquartered in the same city - San Francisco, but that is no longer a reason for the group to do business with Wells Fargo, said Brune.

Rainforest Action Network currently maintains four business accounts with Wells Fargo and is in the process of researching alternatives, he said.

“We want to be a leader in this important area of corporate citizenship especially in processes and procedures for considering environmental issues in our commercial and business practices,” said Mary Wenzel, the company’s vice president of environmental affairs.

“This commitment to ourselves and our stakeholders shows we’re serious," she said. "We want to make sure Wells Fargo and our more than 80 businesses and 151,000 team members are committed to being environmentally responsible stewards in every community in which we do business.”

Wenzel cited Wells Fargo’s recent environmental progress in providing $64 million in financing for developing green buildings - designed to conserve energy and water, promote indoor air quality, and minimize environmental impacts - in Idaho and Oregon.

She said the bank provided $600+ million in 2004 for the acquisition and redevelopment of brownfields, abandoned or underused industrial or commercial properties where redevelopment is complicated by environmental contamination.

In addition, Wenzel pointed out that Wells Fargo is the nation’s leading Internet bank, which saves paper, energy and water over paper based banking practices.

The bank pledged to increase corporate contributions of financial, human and social capital to selected environmental non-profit groups in the communities where it does business, increase efforts to conserve resources in its own operations, and incorporate environmental commitments into the company’s Vision and Values statement.

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