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AmeriScan: July 18, 2005

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Hurricane Emily Leaves Cancun Miserable, Barrels Towards Texas

GALVESTON, Texas, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricane Emily is roaring towards Texas after forcing some 30,000 to evacuate hotels in the Mexican resort of Cancun. Tourists spent a miserable night cramped in leaky shelters while the storm ripped off roofs and downed power lines all along the Yucatan coast.

Much discomfort and inconvenience was experienced, but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported on the peninsula.

The hurricane weakened over land, but the official forecast from the U.S. National Weather Service warns it will regain strength before striking northeast Mexico or southern Texas Tuesday evening.

A hurricane warning is now in effect from south of the Mexico-Texas border to the community of La Cruz, the National Hurricane Center said.

Hurricane Emily remains a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 to 145 mph and higher gusts at times. It is expected to bring high winds and heavy rain to coastal areas as it makes landfall.

In Texas, South Padre Island visitors in RVs began to head inland today, when a local judge ordered vehicles in danger of being blown over by high winds to leave county parks on the island.

Hurricane Emily is expected to threaten Mexican oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico before it makes landfall. The Mexican oil company Pemex evacuated hundreds of workers from its Bay of Campeche oil rigs on the weekend, shutting down offshore production ahead of the hurricane.

A Pemex spokesman said Sunday that one of 26 helicopters being used for the evacuation crashed while trying to land on a platform in high winds. The pilot and co-pilot both died in the crash.

U.S. oil companies shut down a total of 30 platforms and 12 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in advance of the approaching storm. These evacuations are equivalent to 3.66 percent of 819 manned platforms and 8.76 percent of 137 rigs currently operating in the Gulf, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

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Enron Faces $1.52 Billion Fine for California Energy Manipulation

SACRAMENTO, California, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer Friday announced a $1.52 billion settlement with Enron to resolve market manipulation and price gouging claims against the company Lockyer called "the architect of gaming strategies" that powered the plundering of California ratepayers during the energy crisis of 2000-01.

"After masterminding one of the largest ripoffs in history, Enron collapsed under the weight of its own greed and corruption," said Lockyer.

California's attempt to deregulate energy markets became a disaster for consumers when companies like Enron manipulated the West Cost power market and shut down power plants so they could drive up prices.

Besides Lockyer, who represented the people, other California parties to the proposed settlement include: the California Department of Water Resources, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Electricity Oversight Board, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers also are parties to the settlement.

Before it becomes final, the settlement must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Enron bankruptcy court.

The proposed settlement calls for the California parties to receive an $875 million unsecured claim in the Enron bankruptcy proceeding, plus $47.5 million in cash.

The California parties would provide the Washington and Oregon attorneys general $22.5 million each from the unsecured bankruptcy claim.

Additionally, Lockyer and the other attorneys general would receive a combined $600 million penalty, which would be a subordinated claim in the bankruptcy proceeding.

The amount ultimately paid by Enron under the settlement will not be known until its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding is completed.

Funds paid to the California parties under the settlement would resolve the state's and utilities' claims for refunds now pending before FERC.

The money would compensate businesses and individuals for overcharges, reduce the financial burden of PG&E ratepayers under that utility's bankruptcy settlement, and reduce all utility ratepayers' obligation to retire bonds sold by the state to finance power purchases at the height of the energy crisis.

Aside from resolving the refund claims, the proposed settlement would end a lawsuit filed by Lockyer against Enron. The enforcement action alleged the Enron-devised market manipulation games with exotic names such as Fat Boy, Death Star, Get Shorty and Ricochet violated California's commodities fraud laws. Lockyer's complaint was on hold pending resolution of Enron's bankruptcy proceeding.

Lockyer filed the lawsuit in the wake of the release of audio tapes and transcripts of Enron trader conversations that provided evidence of the firm's market behavior.

On the tapes, the traders not only talk about exporting power and gaming the market, they boast about bringing California to its knees, inflicting financial pain on "Grandma Millie" and Enron's influence with President George W. Bush.

Seeing profit in destruction, they express hope fires will torch California power lines, chanting, "Burn baby, burn." Additionally, the tapes indicate Enron's top two executives, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, had some knowledge of the market manipulation and received briefings on how it enriched the company.

When he filed the lawsuit, Lockyer noted he was Grandma Millie's lawyer and was seeking justice for her and all California ratepayers. In the complaint, he said, "While the state reeled from the combined impact of sky high power prices, supply shortages and rolling blackouts, the Enron defendants enjoyed massive, unprecedented profits, and extracted millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains from utilities and their customers ... And through it all, the Enron defendants displayed a shocking disregard for the public welfare, as numerous telephone conversations involving their personnel vividly demonstrate."

The Enron settlement is the 10th produced by Lockyer's Energy Task Force, working in cooperation with the California parties and the Governor's Office. The 10 settlements have a combined value of $4.9 billion. Of that total, an estimated $3.64 billion represents ratepayer relief.

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Wastewater Modernization Will Cost Louisiana City $50 Million

NEW IBERIA, Louisiana, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - To settle Clean Water Act violations, the city of New Iberia, Louisiana has agreed to construct a new $30 million sewage treatment plant. In addition, the city will perform an extensive characterization, evaluation, and rehabilitation of the city’s collection system designed to eliminate sewage overflows, estimated to cost up to $20 million over the next 10 years.

The United States and the State of Louisiana filed a civil complaint against the city for violations under the Clean Water Act in June 2004. The consent decree, lodged today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette, represents the combined efforts of the United States and the state of Louisiana.

“This joint enforcement action will bring long-term significant improvement to New Iberia’s sewer system,” said Kelly Johnson, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Under the proposed consent decree, the city of 32,500 people is building a new wastewater treatment plant, which will have substantially greater hydraulic capacity and replace the antiquated Admiral Doyle treatment plant.

The city has agreed to expedite the elimination of certain high priority sewer overflows from the system. In addition, it will share in the cost associated with the construction, operation and maintenance of an equalization basin for the Tete Bayou sewage treatment plant.

The consent decree also requires the city to adopt a plan for identifying and eliminating illegal storm water connections on private property to the publicly owned or operated collection system.

The city must implement a maintenance program for the collection system to provide for the proper operation and maintenance of equipment; and develop and implement an emergency response plan to adequately protect the health and welfare of persons in the event of any sanitary sewer overflows.

The city will pay a civil penalty of $235,000 for past effluent and sewer overflow violations, one half of which will be paid to the United States and half of which will be paid to the state.

“This settlement will provide for the construction and installation of a new wastewater facility and infrastructure to serve the current and future needs of the New Iberia area,” said Dr. Harold Leggett, assistant secretary for the Office of Environmental Compliance, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

“We deeply appreciate the efforts of the parties in arriving at this settlement. It takes leadership and vision to address the complex environmental problems facing us today,” said U.S. Attorney Donald Washington. “The steps we take now to improve or stabilize our environment translate into improving the quality of life for future generations.”

In the past, the United States has reached similar agreements with numerous municipal entities across the country including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Birmingham, Atlanta, Knoxville, Miami, Toledo, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.

“This agreement allows the community of New Iberia to move forward toward our goal of a cleaner, healthier environment for its residents,” said EPA Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Division Director John Blevins said. “The commitments made by New Iberia ensure the community will achieve compliance with environmental standards.”

The proposed consent decree with the city of New Iberia is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective.

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Dale Hall Tapped as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director

WASHINGTON, DC, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today nominated Dale Hall to serve as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the 27 year career employee will replace former director Steven Williams, who resigned in March.

Hall has served in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the southwest regional director of the Service since 2001.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who has jurisdiction over the Service, supports Hall's nomination. “Dale brings to the job a wealth of experience and a record of being part of the answer to complex problems,” said Norton.

“As a qualified scientist, he has worked on everything from the Northwest Forest Plan to the California Bay/Delta water settlement, to the plan for restoring the Everglades. He has dealt with wetlands across the nation and water issues on the Middle Rio Grande and the Missouri Rivers. In every instance he has sought consensus and solutions. I am confident he will continue that record.”

Hall said, “I’m looking forward to this position and to using my experience to lead our outstanding employees in finding science-based, cooperative solutions to the tough issues before the Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Hall worked on the Multi-Species Conservation Plan for the Lower Colorado River, a 50-year conservation initiative that provides more than $620 million in federal and local funding to protect fish and wildlife along 400 miles of the lower Colorado River, while meeting the needs of farmers, tribes, industries and urban residents who rely on the river for water and power supplies.

Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona urged the Senate to reject Hall's nomination. Suckling said Hall has "routinely sided with extraction interests" and "undermined scientific standards at every turn."

Hall’s experience includes a term as deputy regional director in Atlanta, Georgia and one as assistant regional director for Ecological Services in Portland, Oregon.

In Galveston and Houston, Texas he worked as Outer Continental Shelf Coordinator with responsibility to work with Minerals Management Service to protect sensitive areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico.

Along the career path he worked as Deputy Assistant Director for Fisheries in Washington, DC. “I’ve worked in Washington before, but one of the things I will miss about New Mexico is all the great hunting and fishing in the state,” said Hall.

Matt Hogan has been serving as acting director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since Williams' resignation in March.

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State of Alaska Intervenes in Yakutat Timber Decision

JUNEAU, Alaska, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski said Friday that the state will attempt to change a court decision to benefit a logging company whose operations were halted last Tuesday by a federal judge in Anchorage.

The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, concerned about the effect of temporary, below-grade trench logging roads on the Situk River watershed, had asked the judge to suspend the sale.

U.S. District Judge James Singleton told the U.S. Forest Service that it cannot proceed with the eight million-board-foot timber sale unless it prepares a more extensive environmental analysis.

"The Forest Service has not provided a convincing statement of reasons explaining why the trench roads will have minimal impact," Singleton wrote. He also found fault with the project on other legal grounds.

"We are very pleased with the court's decision," said Bert Adams Sr., president of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, which had asked the judge to suspend the sale.

Murkowski expressed his support for allowing work to continue on the 690-acre Forest Service blowdown timber sale in Yakutat.

“This administration stands for the conservation and full utilization of natural resources. The timber, which has blown down in Yakutat, will be wasted and left to rot if not utilized. With a crew available in Yakutat to harvest this timber, it is a shame that the Federal District Court for the District of Alaska refused to let the work go forward,” the Governor said.

Murkowski said the state would join a motion asking that the injunction be altered to allow some of the work to continue. If that motion fails, the governor directed Attorney General David Marquez to look into an appeal of the ruling.

Meanwhile, Murkowski directed the Division of Forestry to determine the availability of state timber in the Yakutat area to keep the crew, that is currently there, employed while the courts review the decision.

“Professional foresters must take back management of the Tongass National Forest from the environmental groups which are attempting to manage the forest through litigation,” Murkowski said.

The judge's decision means no summer job for about 30 loggers, said Bob Hild, president of Alaska Pacific Logging, a subcontractor on the timber sale.

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Maine Coastal Islands Wildlife Refuge Plan Open for Comment

MILBRIDGE, Maine, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Friday released a 15 year management plan for the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, formerly named the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said Refuge Manager Charlie Blair.

The plan calls for acquiring lands from willing sellers beyond the refuge's existing boundary including an additional 2,306 acres on 87 islands that provide nesting habitat for seabirds, wading birds, and bald eagles, and 153 acres on the mainland, said Blair.

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement will guide the refuge's efforts to protect nationally significant habitats by acquiring lands and managing its biological and public use programs.

The Service has also recommended designating 13 refuge islands ranging in size from six to 1,654 acres as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. According to Blair, the islands represent the uniqueness of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and warrant inclusion in the System.

Blair says the refuge's biological program will focus more intensely on birds of conservation concern in the Gulf of Maine. Six additional seabird restoration projects will occur on the refuge, he says.

The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge includes Petit Manan, Cross Island, Franklin Island, Seal Island, and Pond Island national wildlife refuges. The refuges protect islands, estuaries, freshwater wetlands, forests, and other important habitats for migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, and other native wildlife along the length of Maine's coast.

Visitors to the refuge will enjoy expanded wildlife-related recreational opportunities including new environmental education and interpretive programs and trails on the Gouldsboro Bay, Sawyers Marsh, and Corea Heath divisions.

National, state, and local agencies and conservation organizations, landowners, aquaculture industry representatives, researchers, and individual citizens have provided input in the development of the plan, and there is one last chance to comment. Public comments will be accepted through August 15, at which time it will be made final.

For more about the plan and the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, go to: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/petitmanan/

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Turtle With a Microchip Rescued by Multi-National Cooperation

NEW YORK, New York, July 18, 2005 (ENS) - A rare Cambodian mangrove turtle escaped a trip to a Chinese soup pot, due to a tiny microchip implanted in its skin, according to U.S. scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society based at New York's Bronx Zoo.

In Vietnam, alert wildlife inspectors discovered the 33 pound turtle in a crate of confiscated wildlife. Smugglers had planned to send the shipment on to China.

The inspectors used an electronic device to detect and read the microchip, and learned that the turtle came from Cambodia, where it was released two years ago in the Sre Ambel River ago by Cambodia's Fisheries Department.

Authorities called in the Vietnamese conservation group Wildlife at Risk, who confirmed field identification of the turtle.

Following a routine health screening and examination, the turtle was then transported from Vietnam to Cambodia, where it will be soon be released into familiar waters of the Sre Ambel River.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists rediscovered the species four years ago in Cambodia. Today, WCS works with the National Fisheries Department of Cambodia to protect turtle nesting beaches and reduce local hunting and egg collection to ensure that this small population, with only a handful of nesting females recorded each year, does not become extinct in Cambodia.

"This is a clear and very positive example of how authorities can cooperate across international borders to resolve specific trans-border trade cases", says Doug Hendrie, the Asian turtle coordinator for WCS and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. "In this case, a very important turtle has returned home."

Once considered the exclusive property of Cambodia's Royal Family, the mangrove turtle is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning it is critically threatened by trade, and requires permits for both export and import.

The species is native to coastal river systems and mangrove forests from India through Bangladesh and Myanmar, south along both coasts of peninsular Malaysia, on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, and in Thailand and Cambodia.

Hendrie warns that every day thousands of turtles are smuggled across international borders in the region, many of these ending up in China where turtles are eaten or used in traditional medicine.

"The population in Sre Ambel is small and every turtle counts" says Hendrie, who recently returned from Malaysia where regional scientists and conservationists met to devise mangrove turtle protection plan.

"I hope that we can see more of this type of positive cooperation between regional governments," said Hendrie. "This case involves one very important turtle, and is an excellent opportunity to build upon this success."

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