AmeriScan: July 24, 2006

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Senate Committee Proposes More Oil Drilling in Gulf of Mexico

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici Friday introduced legislation that directs new oil and gas leasing in 8.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico. The bill will expand access to domestic energy supply in portions of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The bipartisan Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act is cosponsored by Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Debate is expected to begin on the bill this week.

The legislation directs the Department of the Interior to begin oil and gas leasing in designated parts of Lease Sale 181 no later than one year after the bill becomes law and directs leasing in 181 South as soon as practicable.

It places a 16 year moratorium on oil and gas activity near the Florida coast and excludes certain parts of 181 and 181 South that are either used for military training activity or are near the Florida coast.

The oil producing states will receive 37.5 percent of the revenue from oil and gas development in the new areas with an additional 12.5 percent going to the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the state assistance program and the remaining 50 percent to federal coffers.

After 2017, the Gulf producing states will also receive 37.5 percent of revenues from new leases in areas of existing development adjacent to Lease Sale 181.

Domenici said, “My top priority this year has been OCS legislation that makes a real difference in our energy supply. Every time the price of oil has climbed to a new high, I have intensified my efforts to do this bill. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their hard work in crafting with me a bill that protects our environment while bringing enough oil and gas to market to ease supply constraints and stabilize energy prices. This bill strikes the balance I always strive for between our need for energy and our commitment to our environment. This legislation honors both priorities.”

Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, said, "This legislation will increase domestic oil and gas production and help the United States address the rising cost of energy by decreasing dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said, “This bill is a way to provide more energy to Americans to help lower and stabilize gas prices. At the same time, critical resources will be made available to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast states to rebuild our wetlands and strengthen our levees and hurricane defenses. It sets in place a partnership that works – for the nation and for the states; for the coast and its economies; and for the Gulf itself."

The National Association of Manufacturers is pleased with the measure. "This legislation comes at a time when America is experiencing some of the highest energy prices in the world," said NAM President John Engler. Support of this legislation “not only safely opens development to the nation’s nearest-term oil and natural gas supply, but will help alleviate the growing energy crisis plaguing consumers, seniors and small businesses," he said.

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Jeffords Introduces Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - Senator James Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Thursday introduced legislation that would set the United States on a path to decrease and, in time, reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

“The science is clear, mankind is heating the planet in a manner that is destructive,” said Jeffords. “We can no longer afford to watch from the sidelines. We are a nation of innovators, and we have the skills to develop the technology to make these needed changes.”

"This legislation is a flexible and forward-thinking approach to combating the threat of global warming. Senator Jeffords has laid down an important marker for us to work toward, so that our children and our grandchildren will see that we had the wisdom and leadership to choose a better path for our world,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who is the bill’s lead co-sponsor.

The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act requires that the United States reduce its emissions between 2010 and 2020 to 1990 levels.

By 2030, the U.S. must reduce its emissions by one-third of 80 percent percent below 1990 levels, by 2040 by two-thirds of 80 percent percent below 1990 levels and by 2050, to a level that is 80 percent below 1990 levels.

The bill requires that power plants, automobiles and carbon intensive businesses reduce their global warming pollution.

In the event that global atmospheric concentrations exceed 450 parts per million or that average global temperatures increase above two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can require additional reductions.

The bill provides for standards and grants for sequestration of greenhouse gases.

The bill attracted support from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the country's largest environmental groups. "These Senate leaders are proposing action on the scale we need to prevent the worst effects of global warming," said David Doniger, Policy Director for the NRDC Climate Center. "We must start cutting heat-trapping pollution now and steadily reduce them year by year. Delay will only make the task harder and more expensive."

Under the proposed bill, the National Academy of Sciences would report to the EPA and the Congress to determine whether goals of the act have been met.

The legislation sets a national renewable standard by requiring the nation as a whole to derive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Many states have renewable energy standards of their own.

The bill establishes energy efficiency standards similar those found in California and 10 other states.

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Old Growth Logged Under Healthy Forests Law, Congress Told

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - The Bush administration's Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) is being manipulated to squeeze old growth timber out of national forest lands under the guise of forest protection, conservationists told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

The 2003 law was scrutinized at a Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests’ oversight hearing. Lawmakers heard that the HFRA has not been proven to be either effective or necessary to protect communities at risk from wildfires.

"Limiting public participation and weakening environmental laws are not the solutions to increasing community wildfire protection efforts," said Matthew Koehler, executive director of the Missoula Montana based WildWest Institute and a witness at the hearing.

"Certainly, it’s hard to make the case that the 103 acres of total fuel reduction by the Forest Service under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2006 – in the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming - is much of an accomplishment," Koehler said.

Koehler told the lawmakers that environmentally harmful logging that does not enhance community protection or forest health is being included in HFRA projects.

"The old growth forests and large tree retention requirements of the HFRA are, in some cases, being ignored and/or manipulated by the Forest Service in order to cut down large trees," Koehler said.

"This practice only serves to increase controversy and mistrust among various stakeholders, not to mention that it may result in increased fire risk and severity as well as significant damage to overall forest health," he said.

Michael Francis, forest program director of The Wilderness Society, told the subcommittee, "The Forest Service Healthy Forests budget does not provide adequate support for community wildfire protection efforts on non-federal lands where it would be most effective."

"A greater portion of the Forest Service Healthy Forests budget should be dedicated to non-federal lands in the wildland-urban interface," Francis said. "In FY 2007 the administration proposes to spend only four percent of the funding in this area that makes up to 85 percent of the risk."

"The required local collaborative process is in some cases being ignored by the Forest Service," said Randi Spivak, executive director of American Lands Alliance. "The agency should allow the collaborative process to work and let local citizens help design authentic community wildfire protection and restoration projects."

"The agency's number one priority should be to protect homes and communities," said Sean Cosgrove, forest policy specialist for the Sierra Club. "In the debate on HFRA it was claimed that old growth forests would be conserved. Instead, the Forest Service has used the HFRA to create controversial logging projects that target old growth and roadless forests."

Conservation groups have been monitoring implementation of the law and projects the agency is working on using its authorities. A summary of these findings and a sampling of HFRA projects is available here.

If the Regional Office rejects the appeal, the next step would be a federal lawsuit for violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

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Resort Expansion in Wyoming National Forest Appealed

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service is breaking environmental protection rules and endangering public health in approving a major expansion of a Wyoming lakeside resort, according to a formal appeal filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national association of employees in natural resource agencies.

The resort sits on Fremont Lake which provides unfiltered drinking water for the city of Pinedale, in western Wyoming.

The appeal challenges the no significant impact ruling by Bridger Teton Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton and is submitted to the Forest Service Intermountain Regional Office.

Hamilton approved this expansion of an old lake resort by deciding that the project has no significant environmental impact meriting further study or public input.

This finding comes despite a warning by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the project “will increase the likelihood of contamination, and generally degrade the microbiological and chemical quality of water in Fremont Lake.”

The resort project involves construction of a pavilion and 25-unit lodge, a marina with 39 boat slips, 10 duplex cabins, a restaurant expansion, access roads and parking lots.

Year-round occupancy of the resort complex will rise to more than 200 people. The only proposed water treatment is an expanded septic system.

“For the Forest Service to say that building a new resort complex on a pristine lake used for municipal drinking water has no potential environmental impacts worth studying insults the intelligence,” said Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal. “How would you like to add diesel fuel, motor oil and hundreds more people swimming in the water coming directly to your tap?”

Joining PEER in filing the appeal of the finding of no significant environmental impact is Bill Worf, the retired forest supervisor of the Bridger National Forest, who, during his tenure, tried to have the resort closed entirely, as well as removing a number of private cabins ringing the lake.

“Forest Service Supervisor Hamilton is betting that 11 private water-front homes, a yacht club and an unneeded year-long resort will not damage Pinedale's water. But, if wrong, the citizens of Pinedale must pick up the $14,000,000 tab!” commented Worf.

Also joining the PEER appeal, as private citizens and long time residents of the area, are Dr. Thomas Johnston, the Sublette County Health Officer, and local attorney Steve Mackey.

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Enviro, Health Groups Fight to Maintain States' Control of Toxics

WASHINGTON, DC, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - Environmental and public health groups are mounting a campaign to oppose a bill they say would jeopardize public health and the environment by preventing states from controlling the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

Sponsored by Congressman Paul Gillmor, an Ohio Republican, HR 4591 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 12. The measure would allow the federal government to preempt and block state and local government standards that ban or restrict the use of toxic chemicals.

HR 4591 is opposed by more than a dozen state attorneys general, the American Nurses Association and more than 100 environmental and public health groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement Friday that this legislation is an effort to undermine the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an international treaty signed by 127 nations to eliminate some of the world's most harmful chemicals.

The United States has signed the treaty but it has yet to be ratified by the Senate.

The bill would amend the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act to condition ratification of the Stockholm Convention on the federal preemption of states' rights to protect public health and the environment.

HR 4591 would modify the Toxic Substances Control Act to create loopholes that allow the chemical industry to continue producing and selling toxic agents.

Parallel legislation could delay the phasing out of known harmful chemicals by requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use a cost-benefit standard rather than a health standard when determining whether to ban chemicals in pesticides or industrial products.

The EPA would also have no clear timetable for regulating pollutants that are added to the treaty's list of banned substances, and there would be no citizen participation process to challenge the EPA's action or inaction.

HR 4591 would allow the Environmental Protection Agency – currently under fire from its own scientists for approving harmful pesticides without adequate scientific review – to disregard the findings of international public health specialists, scientists and policy experts who make recommendations under the Convention.

The passage of HR 4591 from the Energy and Commerce Committee moves the debate to the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, where legislation amending the federal pesticide law must be agreed upon, and then to the full House and Senate for a final vote.

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$256 Million More to Be Spent on Gulf Coast Wetland Restoration

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - Just in time for the 2006 hurricane season, the federal government has allocated an additional $256 million to restore Gulf Coast wetlands on national wildlife refuges and rebuild Interior facilities after hurricanes devastated the region last year.

President George W. Bush signed legislation last month providing $256 million for Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. The funds are in addition to $70.3 million provided in December 2005.

Secretary Dirk Kempthorne handed the checks over last week on a visit to the region. He toured Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge where he saw the impacts of salt water intrusion into the refuge and the loss of important marshes inside the levees.

“We stand with the people of Louisiana and other Gulf states as they seek to rebuild their communities and restore their coastal ecosystems,” Kempthorne said. “This includes providing new funding to restore national wildlife refuges, national parks and other Interior facilities in Gulf Coast states that were devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

Kempthorne emphasized that wetland restoration is crucial to both the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast region.

“More than 118 square miles of coastal wetlands and marshes on the southeastern Louisiana coast were turned into open water by the storms,” he said. “The damage to this coastal ecosystem has accelerated wetland losses, endangering communities across the coast and threatening nationally significant fish and wildlife resources and important on-shore facilities.”

The funds are being used to remove debris and clear canals; repair levees, docks, bridges, roads, campgrounds, and trails; restore damaged or destroyed buildings; replace lost equipment, vehicles, and boats; and restore damaged cultural artifacts. The restoration funding also will generate millions of dollars in purchases, create thousands of jobs, and help to revitalize the region’s economy.

“People cannot live there if the Delta dies. It’s as simple as that,” Kempthorne said. “This is a national challenge that requires all of us to work together to solve. Restoring a sustainable wetland ecosystem must be a part of any rebuilding plan if we are to address future risks to human safety.”

Louisiana contains 45 percent of the nation's coastal wetlands, including 10 national wildlife refuges and one national park, covering more than 310,000 acres.

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Red Snapper Poacher Imprisoned for 30 Months

HOUSTON, Texas, July 24, 2006 (ENS) - The captain of a commercial fishing vessel based in Galveston, Texas was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of supervised release Friday for illegally importing red snapper into the United States,

A crewmember, Thanh Tam, was sentenced to 21 months in prison and three years of supervised release for concealing the illegal red snapper

The captain, Hoang Nguyen as well as Le and other crewmembers caught and retained the fish in violation of the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Both Nguyen and Le were indicted by a grand jury in Houston on November 23, 2005 for offenses surrounding the illegal importation of red snapper in 2004 and 2005. Both defendants entered guilty pleas, earlier in 2006, to smuggling the fish.

On March 2, 2005, the vessel was boarded by special agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service Office for Law Enforcement as it was returning from a commercial fishing trip which began on February 22, 2005, before the red snapper commercial fishing season had officially opened.

A hidden compartment containing 5,640 pounds of red snapper was discovered beneath the vessel’s deck during a search of the vessel.

More than 2,700 individual fish within the concealed compartment were less than the legal minimum size limit of 15 inches.

The total market value of the red snapper involved in the 2004 and 2005 offenses was $48,000.

Nguyen agreed to forfeit his interest in the fish which, due to their perishable nature, were previously sold by NOAA in accordance with federal regulations.

Historically, the red snapper fishery has been severely over-fished. In order to ensure red snapper stocks for the future, the Magnuson–Stevens Act’s fishery management plan for the Gulf of Mexico requires that legally-permitted commercial fishing vessels only harvest red snapper during an open season, maintain a maximum single trip limitation of 2,000 pounds and take only red snapper having a minimum length measurement of 15 inches.

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