AmeriScan: June 10, 2005

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Pryor Confirmed Despite Environmentalist Warnings

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate voted 53 to 45 Thursday to confirm former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to a lifetime seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals of federal environmental cases in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Judge Pryor has been serving on this court since February 20, 2004, when he received a recess appointment from President George W. Bush to a seat vacated by another judge.

Two Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Ken Salazar of Colorado, voted in favor of Pryor.

Three Republicans voted against him - Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Conservation groups oppose Pryor's confirmation, saying he has accumulated an "aggressive anti-environmental record."

“Mr. Pryor aggressively pursued sweeping efforts to invalidate core environmental protections as unconstitutional, sided with corporate polluters by failing to crack down on clean water violations, and opposed the EPA’s enforcement of Clean Air Act safeguards against power plant and oil refinery pollution that harms downwind states,” said Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice.

“Judicial nominees like William Pryor are phase two of the Bush Administration’s assault on federal environmental protections,” Sugameli said. “When they can’t convince Congress to repeal clean air, clean water and other legal safeguards, they threaten to strike down or rewrite those laws from the bench by putting partisan ideologues like Pryor on our independent federal courts.”

Pryor's confirmation is supported by the Christian nonprofit group Focus on the Family Action and its chairman James Dobson, who said Thursday that his expectations were met when Pryor and other Republican supported judicial candidates nominated by President George W. Bush were confirmed over the past several weeks.

"Today we have seen a qualified judge confirmed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. William Pryor has finally received the up-or-down vote to which he was entitled two years ago. His confirmation, and the confirmations of Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, Richard Griffin and David McKeague, are nothing less than what President Bush and the American people have expected of the U.S. Senate," he said.

But Sugameli calls Pryor an "activist" judge who stood alone among the 50 state attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of significant portions of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

He testified before Congress that “EPA invaded the province of the States” by enforcing the Clean Air Act to prevent uncontrolled pollution increases at dirty coal-burning power plants and oil refineries, even though the pollution harms downwind states.

Pryor also demonstrated hostility to claims of environmental injustice, stating that, “environmental racism claims should fail generally.”

“Mr. Pryor’s record indicates that he will bring to the bench an activist agenda that will seriously undermine decades of established federal safeguards for clean water, clean air, endangered species, and the health of minority communities,” said Sugameli.

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Yale Poll: Americans Want Renewables, Hydrogen Cars

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - More than 90 percent of Americans interviewed for a new Yale University research survey say they are worried about dependence on foreign oil. Fully 92 percent say this dependence is a serious problem, while 68 percent say it is a “very serious” problem.

The survey of 1,000 randomly selected adults nationwide shows a vast majority of the public also wants to see government action to develop new “clean” energy sources, including solar and wind power as well as hydrogen cars.

Across all regions of the country and every demographic group, there is broad support for a new emphasis on finding alternative energy sources. Building more solar power facilities is considered a “good idea” by 90 percent of the public; 87 percent support expanded wind farms; and 86 percent want increased funding for renewable energy research.

Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said, “This poll underscores the fact that Americans want not only energy independence but also to find ways to break the linkage between energy use and environmental harm, from local air pollution to global warming.”

Results of the poll indicate that 93 percent of Americans say requiring the auto industry to make cars that get better gas mileage is a good idea. Just 6 percent say it is a bad idea.

This sentiment varies little by political leaning, with 96 percent of Democrats and Independents and 86 percent of Republicans supporting the call for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

These findings come just after Congress rejected a proposal to require sport utility vehicles and minivans to become more fuel-efficient and achieve the same gasoline mileage as passenger cars.

“This poll suggests that Washington is out of touch with the American people. Republicans, Democrats and Independents, young and old, men and women - even SUV drivers - embrace investments in new energy technologies, including better gas mileage in vehicles,” said Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which commissioned the survey.

The survey also revealed broad support for action to improve air and water quality but growing discomfort with “environmentalists.”

The pollsters also found that the public’s confidence in TV news as a source of environmental information has fallen sharply.

This survey is one element of a broader research project at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies focused on environmental attitudes and behavior. Funding for this project, directed by Associate Dean Dan Abbasi, is being provided by the Betsy and Jesse Fink Foundation and Hartford-based United Technologies Corp., which has been ranked as Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired” aerospace company based on criteria including social responsibility.

The survey was conducted by professional phone interviewers on behalf of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies by Global Strategy Group from May 15 to 22, 2005. The survey results have an overall margin of error of ±3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

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Air Pollution Poses High Cardiovascular Risk to Diabetics

BOSTON, Massachusetts, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - On days when air pollution levels are high, people with diabetes may be at higher risk for cardiovascular problems, a new study of Boston area residents has found.

"Our strongest finding was that blood vessel reactivity was impaired in people with diabetes on days when concentrations of sulfate particles and black carbon were higher," said Marie O'Neill, Ph.D., an epidemiologist now with the Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars program at University of Michigan and lead author on the study.

"Impaired vascular reactivity has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other heart problems," she said.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which blood sugar levels are elevated because levels of insulin are too low. Insulin is the hormone needed to process sugars and starches into energy. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, affecting some 13.3 million Americans.

The researchers evaluated several kinds of fine particles found in urban air pollution. These included sulfate particles, which come mainly from coal-burning power plants, as well as ultra-fine particles and black carbon soot, which are generated primarily by diesel and gasoline powered vehicles.

"We don't really understand why fine particles may cause this decrease in vascular reactivity," said O'Neill. "Further research is needed to confirm this association between air pollution and vascular health and to understand what causes people with diabetes to be especially sensitive."

Researchers recruited 270 greater Boston metropolitan residents and divided them into two groups. The first group was composed of people with a positive diagnosis of type I or type II diabetes.

The second group included people who were not diabetic, but who had a family history of diabetes or blood sugar levels slightly higher than normal.

The investigators used a technique called brachial artery ultrasound to assess blood vessel response in the study subjects. The measurement was obtained by applying a pressure cuff to the subject's upper arm and cutting off the blood flow through the arm's main artery. Researchers then released the cuff, allowing the blood to rush through. The researchers then evaluated changes in the diameter of the main artery as a result of the physical stress placed on the vessel.

"We observed an 11 percent decrease in diabetics' vascular reactivity on days when sulfate particle concentrations were higher than normal," said O'Neill. "We also noted a 13 percent decrease in their vascular reactivity on days with higher-than-normal black carbon concentrations."

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes of Health, provided funding to O'Neill and other researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health for the study. Other collaborators were from the Joslin Diabetes Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. The findings are published in the June 2005 issue of the journal "Circulation."

The funding for the air pollution monitoring was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Particulate Matter Research Center.

Research conducted in Montreal, Quebec from 1984 to 1993 showed that hospitalizations and deaths related to cardiovascular problems increased among diabetics when levels of air pollution were higher.

"Previous studies have shown that when air pollution levels are higher, people with diabetes have higher rates of hospitalization and death related to cardiovascular problems," said NIEHS Director David Schwartz, MD. "These changes in blood vessel reactivity may help explain this phenomenon."

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Demolishing Concrete Army Buildings May Release Asbestos

MERRIMAC, Wisconsin, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - Wisconsin state regulators are requiring the Badger Army Ammunition Plant to test concrete in buildings on the base for asbestos that may have been mixed with concrete during base construction during World War II. The tests are being conducted to assure the public that the carcinogenic mineral fiber is not released to the air when foundations for dozens of excess buildings are crushed for reuse in road construction.

Asbestos was added to a variety of building materials and is found in concrete construction products, particularly on military bases.

According to a new fact sheet produced by the Merrimac based Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, the Military Formulation of Super Powerhouse insulation cement produced from 1957 to 1971 contained five percent chrysotile asbestos and was developed to conform to government specification.

This product was manufactured and sold exclusively for U.S. government military installations. The product was a dry mixture containing spun mineral-wool, hydraulic setting binders, clays and other ingredients.

"Since the asbestos content of concrete is rarely known," the citizens group says, "mechanical abrasion such as sawing, grinding, or sanding and use of concrete-crushing machines is a matter of great concern. Under no circumstances should asbestos-containing concrete, or concrete to which asbestos-containing resilient flooring is attached, be subjected to such treatment," the group warns.

State, federal, and international health agencies have classified asbestos as a known cancer causing substance. Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer, as well as mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lung linings, and asbestosis, a non-cancer respiratory disease.

The Badger Army Ammunition Plant is located on 7,354 acres of land in Sauk County, Wisconsin. The plant produced propellant for cannon, rocket, and small arms ammunition from 1942 until March 1975 when all production facilities and many support functions were placed on standby, which continued until 1998.

The plant is now being decommissioned under the direction of the General Services Administration. Water contamination from the base has been found in two plumes outside the base boundaries.

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Freshwater Mussel Decline Linked to Ancient Corn Growing

OXFORD, Mississippi, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - A decline in the abundance of freshwater mussels about 1,000 years ago across what is now the southeastern United States may have been caused by the cultivation of maize, or corn, by Native Americans, according to new research by scientists with the U.S. Forest Service.

In the April 2005 issue of "Conservation Biology," Wendell Haag and Mel Warren, who work at the Forest Service's Southern Research Station unit in Oxford, report results from a study of archaeological data from 27 prehistoric sites in the southeastern United States.

Of 297 freshwater mussel species found in the United States, 269 species are found in the Southeast.

“We can tie declines of specific mussel populations to the construction of dams, stream channelization, or pollution from a specific source,” says Haag, “but the worldwide patterns of decline in these animals implies that larger-scale disturbances such as sedimentation and nonpoint-source pollution may have an equal impact.”

Worldwide, freshwater mussels have proven to be susceptible to human disturbance, and they are the most endangered group of organisms in North America, say Haag and Warren.

Among freshwater mussels, members of the genus Epioblasma, known as riffleshells, are the most endangered. Epioblasma consists of 20 species and eight subspecies; at least 13 of these species and four subspecies are presumed extinct. Of those remaining, the snuffbox mussel, Epioblasma triquetra, is the only species not listed on the federal endangered list.

“Human population in the Southeast began to increase steadily about 5,000 years ago,” says Warren. “With increasing population came land disturbance from agriculture. This intensified about 1,000 years ago, with the beginning of large-scale maize cultivation. No one has really tried to look at how this change in land use impacted water quality and aquatic organisms such as freshwater mussels.”

Working with Evan Peacock from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University , Warren and Haag used survey data from prehistoric shell middens - refuse heaps of shells discarded after eating - to examine differences in the abundance of Epioblasma species before and after maize cultivation started in the Southeast.

They compiled data from both published and unpublished archaeological reports from 27 different sites along 12 rivers in the Southeast.

“As far as we can tell, Native Americans harvested mussels without preference for species,” says Haag. “Shell middens provide us with a way to establish the range of freshwater mussel species before human impacts, and to chart changes in relative abundance as impacts increased.”

The researchers found that the relative abundance of riffleshell mussels in the rivers they studied declined gradually during the period between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago and the decline accelerated during the period between 1,000 and 500 years ago, when thousands of acres of land were cleared for farming.

“We know that freshwater mussels are very sensitive to stream alterations,” says Warren. “Although we cannot entirely rule out the influence of long-term changes in climate, the dramatic changes in land use in this period provide a compelling explanation for the changes in mussel abundance we found.”

Today, none of the riffleshell species the researchers found in ancient middens survive at the study sites, where they were gathered by Native Americans over the millennia before European settlement. Most are extinct as a result of modern land disturbances.

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Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Face Culling

SACRAMENTO, California, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - Conservation groups in California and across the country are concerned about a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to kill endangered bighorn sheep to keep them from coming into contact with domestic sheep. The proposed slaughter is intended to prevent transmission of disease to the bighorns.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Inyo, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and other conservation groups have asked the Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to abandon the proposal to kill Sierra Nevada bighorns, which was published in the California Regulatory Notice Register of May 6, 2005.

"It is suspicious," the groups wrote in a June 6 letter to Vern Bleich of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), that the state and federal agencies did not try to inform the public about their plans "beyond this obscure publication," failing to inform even groups that have long involvement in support of California wildlife conservation.

"This deadly approach to ‘protecting’ bighorns from domestic sheep is unwise, contrary to common sense, immoral, and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act," the groups wrote. "A better, more ethical approach would be to remove domestic sheep from bighorn habitat."

"Removing the domestic sheep conflict would protect the bighorns and public-interest for wildlife conservation. Sheepmen do not have a ‘right’ to graze public lands, they have a permitted privilege, subject to end or modification at any time due to other needs, such as conservation and recovery of endangered wildlife like Sierra Nevada bighorns," wrote the conservation groups.

These conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999 to list Sierra Nevada bighorns as endangered, and five years ago they were listed; the state of California listed them six years ago.

Since the sheep were listed on both state and federal levels bighorn numbers have increased, the groups pointed out.

But the CDFG bighorn monitoring program has documented the increase in numbers of these animals and also the fact that they have moved onto National Forest public lands that are grazed by private domestic sheep, the groups wrote.

The Forest Service has closed two allotments to domestic sheep grazing, but the agency has done no more. The groups write that, "The Forest Service has a duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect the bighorn by closing these public land grazing allotments. Killing wild sheep amounts to rewarding that agency for ignoring its mandatory responsibilities."

"Sierra Nevada bighorn are California’s sheep," the groups coaxed. "The state has already been killing our wild mountain lions to ‘save’ bighorns. Killing both wild lions and wild bighorns will turn this popular program into a controversial one and rob CDFG of the good will it has earned for itself."

The groups have sent copies of their letter to both U.S. senators, to the U.S. Forest Service Chief, and to the CDFG director asking for a detailed response by June 16.

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American Forests Seeks Nominations for National Champion Trees

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2005 (ENS) - American Forests, the nation's oldest conservation group, is asking for nominations from the public as it searches for national champion trees, the largest of 826 of America's native and naturalized species. Nominations are being accepted for the 2006-2007 Register until August 1, 2005.

The organization is both the founder and the keeper of the National Register of Big Trees, established in 1940 after Joseph Stearns of the Southern Hardwood Producers in Tennessee called for someone to protect the largest trees before they were all cut.

There are still three trees that remain from the 1940 list - the General Sherman giant sequoia, the Rocky Mountain juniper, and the western juniper.

With a point total of 1,321, derived from a formula of its height, width, and crown spread, the General Sherman giant sequoia is the largest tree on the Register.

Champions are being sought for white oak, Eastern dogwood, and Jeffrey pine, and also for little known and more region specific trees as red alder, cocoplum, Georgia holly, and northern pin oak.

Tree champions sometimes are found in national forests or parks. The Tennessee portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park contains 12, the North Carolina portion has four. Others are found on street corners, in yards, and on school, church, and cemetery grounds.

This year American Forests is calling attention to the "ecosystem services" that big trees provide. Leafy canopies slow rainwater and lessen the need for concrete storm drains; roots trap particulates and hold on to soil, keeping waterways clean and stemming erosion; homes shaded by trees realize lower heating and cooling costs.

At the American Forests website there is a list of trees without champs, including the states where they are found; a description of how to measure a tree; a nomination form; and the name of all state coordinators, who can answer questions and also receive nominations.

Information about the current champs, including some photos, is also available at the American Forests site: www.americanforests.org

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