AmeriScan: July 3, 2006

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No Fun in New Jersey State Parks This Independence Day

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - New Jersey's 51 state parks, forests and marinas are closing July 5, and they will remain closed until further notice because the state is without an approved budget for the 2007 fiscal year beginning July 1.

On Saturday, Governor Jon Corzine signed an executive order implementing an orderly shut down of all nonessential functions of state government until a spending plan for Fiscal Year 2007 is approved.

All but essential state services are being shut down. In addition to the parks, forests and marinas, hatcheries, game farms, and wildlife management areas also will be closed to the public.

Governor Corzine today signed an Executive Order calling for Special Sessions of both Houses of the Legislature beginning on Tuesday morning and continuing every day until a General Appropriations Law for Fiscal Year 2007 is enacted.

In a statement Saturday, Corzine said "the main issue is making sure we have an honest appreciation of our state's constitutional requirement that revenues match expenditures - it's very clear in the Constitution - and that spending without duly authorized appropriations by the Legislature is against the law."

"We have no choice but to proceed under a statute known as the Disaster Control Act, which sets forth guidelines for a government emergency like the one we face," the governor said.

"The perfect need not be the enemy of the good," said Corzine. "I am prepared to compromise and I have. There have been significant accommodations to the Legislature, but there will not be a continuation of the practices of the past that leave New Jersey practically in the same shape as the Katrina-ravaged gulf states who are the only states, after roughly five years of economic expansion, that still have a rating in the red."

"Forty states - 40 states - are operating with major surpluses," the governor said. "New Jersey is operating, if we were to continue under the proposals, $4.5 billion or so in the red."

Essential services will be provided, including personnel and facilities that provide for the health, safety, and welfare of people, as well as for the protection of property. Agencies like the State Police, the Division of Youth and Family Services, the Department of Corrections, and substantial parts of the Department of Human Services will see only a very limited impact.

Corzine's shutdown order requires that 36,000 employees considered essential to come to work unpaid. Another 45,000 employees across 31 departments, agencies and authorities will be off the job until a budget is enacted.

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U.S. Navy Detonates Up to 300 Explosions a Year in Puget Sound

OLYMPIA, Washington, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy sets off between 180 and 300 underwater explosive charges a year in some of the most sensitive waters of Puget Sound, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nationwide association of employees in natural resources agencies.

Despite promises to conduct environmental reviews made by the Navy four years ago after PEER first revealed the existence of the Puget Sound demolition program, measures to protect threatened or endangered marine mammals, fish and aquatic plants have not been taken, the organization says.

The Navy conducts about 60 demolition exercises each year, at least three a month, using plastic explosives set off with 20 pound blasting charges, often in sensitive shallows such as Crescent Harbor, Port Townsend and Hood Canal.

The explosions are conducted to provide "realistic" training for its divers in destroying and disabling mines, but they also blow up marine life. In one exercise involving a five pound explosive charge set off near Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, observers counted 5,000 dead fish on the surface but estimated that up to another 20,000 fish died and sank out of sight.

Since 2002, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have urged the Navy to undertake alternative training practices to minimize damage to marine life, such as using bubble curtains or other containers to minimize blast impacts, or conducting the training in quarries, lakes or the open ocean rather than in the waters of Puget Sound.

The Sound is a designated Essential Fish Habitat under the Sustainable Fisheries Act.

"Why are taxpayers spending millions to preserve Puget Sound when another government agency is busy blowing it up?" asked Washington PEER Director Sue Gunn.

Gunn says the Navy is resisting her document requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act for the Navy's own studies.

"No one seeks to deny the Navy realistic demolition training opportunities but the question is whether the Navy is being a good neighbor by failing to minimize unnecessary harm caused by its explosive ordnance operations," said Gunn.

According to documents obtained by PEER from the civilian services, both the NMFS and the FWS rejected the Navy's self-assessment that its demolition exercises were "not likely to adversely affect" federally protected species such as Chinook salmon, Stellar sea lions, humpback whales, and bull trout.

The Navy, in turn, rejected the services' suggestions for environmental mitigation.

"We are going to make it our business to bring sufficient pressure to move this glacial interagency consultation process off the dime," Gunn said. "National security does not demand that the Navy inflict maximum environmental damage in the waters it is supposed to defend."

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Hawaii Ethanol Manufacturing Gets $1 Million Jumpstart

WASHINGTON, DC, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - Senator Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, today announced the Senate Energy Committee has approved $1 million for an ethanol demonstration project in Hawaii.

Senator Akaka was instrumental in securing the funds from the Department of Interior Appropriations Bill, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As an Energy Committee conferee, Senator Akaka enlarged the scope of the ethanol provision and secured its inclusion in the final version of the bill. These funds will be used to ensure commercialization of sugar cane ethanol.

This appropriation is significant because a state law went into effect April 2 requiring that 85 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii contain at least 10 percent ethanol.

Located 2,575 miles from the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii is dependent on twice weekly oil tankers for all is fueling needs. The ethanol blending law is an attempt by the state government to ease that dependency.

But Hawaii has not yet developed its own ethanol industry despite the availability of feedstocks such as sugar cane waste, known as bagasse.

Local producers are months away from being able to make ethanol, so oil companies are importing ethanol from elsewhere to obey the law.

"Given Hawaii's dependence on oil, and our new law mandating an ethanol blend in our gasoline sales, this federal funding will play an important role in Hawaii's energy future," said Senator Akaka. "It is vital that we continue to find new ways of securing our energy through local resources."

The $1 million gives the state of Hawaii the ability to start on research and development of sugar-to-ethanol, which is one way to create ethanol. The sugar-ethanol blend produces fewer pollutants than pure gasoline.

In addition to sugar cane, ethanol can be made from corn, barley, wheat and such materials as waste paper as well as yard and wood waste.

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Shell Plans Wind Farm for Maui Ranch

HOUSTON, Texas, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - Shell WindEnergy Inc. plans to develop its first wind farm in the state of Hawaii - the Auwahi wind project on Maui's Ulupalakua Ranch. The turbines would stand in a remote corner of the 20,000 acre ranch.

The site was chosen because of its exceptionally strong winds and because it was felt that there would be minimal visual impact.

If approved, the Auwahi wind project's first phase is expected to be completed by 2008. The first phase is expected to provide up to 40 megawatts of wind power, enough to power thousands of homes on Maui.

The project may combine wind and hydroelectric power. Pumped hydro storage technology could store power from the wind turbines during off-peak periods, which could then be used to help meet peak demand. The concept of integrating this wind project with pumped hydro storage was advocated by Renewable Hawaii Inc., a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Company.

Hawaii pays among the highest utility rates in the United States and is seeking to produce more power from renewable sources. When the Auwahi wind project is in operation close to 20 percent of Maui's energy could come from wind turbines.

The total project is expected to cost more than $200 million and take from three to five years to complete.

"This is great news for Ulupalakua Ranch, Maui and Hawaii," said Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, a former mayor of Maui County. "It is an important step toward reducing Hawaii's dependence on imported fossil fuel and meeting our goal of having 20 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by the year 2020."

John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company, said he hoped Auwahi would be the first of several renewable energy projects involving Shell in Hawaii.

Mike May, president & CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company, the parent company of Maui Electric Company and Renewable Hawaii Inc., said, "This project and the arrival of Shell WindEnergy into the Hawaiian Islands represent a win all around, especially for Hawaii and our key goal of reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels."

"Three years ago, Renewable Hawaii Inc. began looking for opportunities to bring utility-scale, commercially viable renewable energy projects to Hawaii. That work is now paying off. If not for RHI's persistent hard work, this would not be happening," May said.

Dr. Karl Stahlkopf, president of RHI, said, "RHI's request for proposals signaled to the world that we wanted renewable developers to come to Hawaii and we were thrilled when Shell was one of the first to show an interest. They know their business, they are one of the biggest renewable players in the world and their interest in Hawaii is a strong sign of things to come," Stahlkopf said.

"This is a great opportunity for up-country Maui," said Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch, Inc. "On the Mainland, wind energy has offered an economic boost to many ranches and farms and now this is happening here. This deal will provide income for the ranch to help us continue our diversification in an environmentally friendly way."

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Lawsuit Filed Against ATV Use in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - Three conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the National Park Service over all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use on nine trails in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve that the groups claim is illegal.

Brought by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Alaska Center for the Environment, and The Wilderness Society, the lawsuit seeks to protect the park from damaging and unregulated ATV use.

"It is obvious when you're out in the park that the ATV riding is posing irreversible threats - scars on the land from ATV trails are several hundred yards wide in some places," said NPCA Alaska Regional Director Jim Stratton.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, referred to as the mountain kingdom of North America, is the largest unit in the National Park System. The park includes the continent's largest assemblage of glaciers and the greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet, as well as Mount St. Elias, the second highest mountain in the United States.

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ATC damage on the Tanada Lake Trail in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Photo courtesy NPCA)
"If we don't do something to protect this otherwise pristine park from this abuse, the damage will continue to expand and the healing will never begin," Stratton said. "This activity is risking the very reason the area is designated a national park."

"ATV enjoyment is appropriate in many places in Alaska, however, unregulated recreational riding is not compatible with most people's view of a national park. The damage being done in Wrangells could cause nine trails in the park to be closed to all users, including local subsistence users," said Randy Virgin, executive director of Alaska Center for the Environment. "These trails need to be managed for the allowed purposes only."

National Park Service rules on ATV use allow for only limited riding under specific circumstances and only when such riding on park trails has been found not to impact the purposes for which the park was created.

The necessary analysis to ensure that Wrangells remains healthy if ATV riding is permitted has not been done .

"The National Park Service has ignored existing laws and regulations designed to protect park resources and values for present and future generations," said Mike Steeves, the plaintiffs' attorney from Anchorage based public interest environmental law firm, Trustees for Alaska. "We filed this lawsuit to prevent further damage and to compel the Park Service to manage the park responsibly."

The impacted trails in Wrangells are - Suslota Lake, Tanada Lake, Caribou Creek, Lost Lake, Trail Creek, Reeve Field, Bommerang Lake, Soda Lake, and Copper Lake.

The lawsuit does not seek to restrict access to the park by the local subsistence users living in resident zone communities around Wrangells.

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Arizona Governor's Roadless Forest Petition Wins Support

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - Conservation groups, hunting and fishing organizations, businesses, faith groups, and other natural allies have joined in support of protecting nearly 1.2 million acres of roadless forest lands in Arizona.

The groups want these roadless lands to be saved for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and other recreational activities, and for the protection of wildlife habitat that is increasingly at risk from rapid development in the Southwest.

The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, initiated under President Bill Clinton, protected nearly 58.5 million acres of wild forests. The rule was developed following years of scientific evidence, more than 600 public meetings across the country, and 1.6 million public comments, more than any comments received in the agency's 100 year history, the vast majority in favor of maintaining roadless areas.

Under the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that was put in place by the Bush Administration in 2005, state governors must petition the U.S Department of Agriculture to protect roadless lands in each state.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has committed to a petition and has asked the Arizona Game and Fish Department to conduct public meetings through July and August that will gather public input on roadless forest protections.

Governors have until November 13 to submit their petitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will review the petitions and decide whether to accept or reject each one.

Public meetings begin on July 5 in Safford and on July 6 in Tucson. More information about the meeting places and times is available at www.arizonaroadless.org.

"This is an ideal opportunity to show, once again, how important roadless lands are to everyone in Arizona," says Tina Beattie, Arizona state coordinator with Republicans for Environmental Protection. "This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue, but a quality of life issue that deserves our utmost support."

Bill Geer, policy initiative manager with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said, "Governor Napolitano is taking the right step in listening to the views of hunters and anglers before preparing her petition for roadless lands. Sportsmen and women have the intimate connection with the wild backcountry that gives them a good perspective on how roadless lands should be managed in the future."

Geer said many hunters and anglers believe roadless lands are crucial to preserving Arizona's heritage of hunting, fishing, and camping.

"Species like elk, mule deer, and black bear will seek quieter, less disturbed areas for forage, mating, and rearing their young," says Kim Crumbo, vice-president of conservation for the Arizona Wildlife Federation. "Roadless lands are their best chance for surviving increased habitat degradation in our forests."

Hunters and fishermen notice the difference in game quality between heavily roaded areas and those that remain relatively intact.

"Some of the best game lands left in Arizona are in the roadless areas of our forests," says Tucson hunter Jonathan Hanson. "Hunters and fishermen should be lining up at these public meetings to tell the Game and Fish Department that we want these areas preserved so traditional backcountry opportunities don't disappear forever."

Total annual expenditures for hunting and fishing in Arizona exceed $548 million, according to a new economics report, "Backcountry Bounty: Hunters, Anglers, and Prosperity in the American West," released in June by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and The Sonoran Institute.

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U.S. to Host Next International Whaling Commission Meeting

WASHINGTON, DC, July 3, 2006 (ENS) - The United States will host the 59th International Whaling Commission meeting, to be held for the first time in Anchorage, Alaska. The meeting will take place May 4 through May 31, 2007.

At their annual meeting last month in St. Kitts, member nations of the International Whaling Commission elected NOAA Fisheries Service Director William Hogarth to be the next chair of the Commission.

Elected by consensus of the 70 commissioners, the chairman serves for a period of three years confronting issues of commercial and subsistence whaling limits, the rebuilding of whale stocks, whale sanctuaries, and the sharing of latest scientific data and information.

Dr. Hogarth is the assistant administrator for Fisheries at the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As asistant administrator, he is responsible for overseeing the management and conservation of marine fisheries and the protection of marine mammals, sea turtles, and coastal fisheries and their habitats within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.

"I am honored to be elected chair of the IWC," said Hogarth. "I expect to bring a spirit of cooperation and openness to the work conducted by the IWC and the debate that surrounds the many challenging issues we face."

A critical focus of next year's meeting will be subsistence hunting quotas of the Western Arctic bowhead whale, Hogarth said. Ten Alaska Native villages in the far north conduct subsistence bowhead whale hunts overseen by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and NOAA Fisheries Service. Also to be discussed are aboriginal whaling quotas for the eastern population of the North Pacific gray whale.

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