AmeriScan: June 13, 2005

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Fires Force Arizona Evacuations, Rainy Spring Protects Northwest

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today authorized the use of federal funds to help Arizona fight the Hulet fire burning in Mohave Valley, Arizona.

The fire started Saturday evening. One hundred homes have been evacuated, and 250 homes are immediately threatened. Fire under a major power line has caused the shutdown of the power lines for safety reasons.

Michael Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the state’s request for federal fire management assistance was approved after it was confirmed that the fire had already consumed 300 acres.

Brown said funding is also approved to help Arizona fight the Bobby fire burning northwest of Phoenix in Maricopa County. The fire threatened 300 homes in the Whispering Ranch subdivision and firefighters needed as many resources as possible on the fire because of weather conditions and heavy vegetation. The fire, which started June 8, had consumed about 1,000 acres when the request was made the same day.

FEMA also approved federal funding to fight the Vekol fire that near Stanfield in Pinal County, Arizona in late May. That fire threatened 600 homes and caused the evacuation of more than 300 people. The fire, which started May 26, had consumed more than 5,000 acres at the time of the request.

"This declaration is the first step towards enabling the state and local governments to apply for financial help," said Brown. “We are committed to getting our firefighters the funds they need to extinguish dangerous fires that threaten lives and property.” The authorization makes FEMA funding available to pay 75 percent of the state’s eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires.

Still, fire activity is lower this year than it was at this time last year. To date this year, 26,309 fires have consumed 462,738 acres. Last year on June 13, 34,383 fires had burned 618,669 acres.

In the year 2000 there were many more fires than either this year or last. On June 13, 2000, official figures show that 44,730 fires had burned 1,217,122 acres.

Firefighting officials say a wet spring across the Northwest this year has reduced the chance of catastrophic wildfires, but the Northern Rockies may not escape.

The latest Wildland Fire Outlook issued Friday by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho says record to near record spring rainfall in parts of the Northwest has delayed the onset of fire season in the Pacific Northwest and reduced the area of above normal fire potential, especially in Oregon and west of the Cascades in Washington.

However, much of eastern Washington, Idaho, parts of Montana and Wyoming are expected to have above normal fire potential, especially in the later half of the forecast period.

"The cumulative effects of seven years of drought, heavy dead fuel loading, and significant insect damage in many areas," is expected to result in "above normal fire potential in the forested areas of southern and western Montana as well as northern Idaho," the report predicts.

Above normal fire potential is expected for the southern California desert areas, the valleys of Inyo and Mono counties, and portions of Modoc and Lassen counties in northeastern California.

In the southeast, summer rainfall is expected to be below normal across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast during June and August returning to normal during July. Given that these areas are already in a rainfall deficit situation, fire officials predict their fire potential to be above normal through September.

The highest fire potential will lie from northeast Arkansas into western Kentucky where moderate drought conditions already exist.

Above normal potential is still expected in deep South Texas with minimal rainfall and on-going drought conditions.

Southern Florida will see below normal fire potential as tropical moisture surges northward across the state from the Caribbean. An above average hurricane season is predicted for Florida with 15 tropical storms. Eight could become hurricanes and four could become major hurricanes, weather officials say. Any of these tropical storms that make landfall will mitigate fire risks along the Gulf Coast.

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Western Governors Seek Changes to Endangered Species Act

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - The Western Governors' Association today urged Congress to make change the Endangered Species Act to "increase its effectiveness" by increasing the role of the states. The governors are holding their Annual Meeting in Breckenridge through Tuesday.

The Western Governors' Association says the Endangered Species Act could be improved "to make it more workable and effective" by increasing and stabilizing funding for the states and by streamlining provisions in the act by providing for statewide, multi-species strategies.

The governors from 18 states and three U.S. Flag islands in the Pacific say the changes they propose would increase certainty and technical assistance for landowners and water users.

"I want to emphasize that we applaud the principles of the Endangered Species Act," said Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who is chairman of the Western Governors' Association (WGA). "But we also have maintained a long- standing interest in improving species recovery efforts by making the process more efficient and by providing more effective incentives for state and private conservation activities," he said.

Owens, a Republican, and Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, a Democrat, serve as WGA's co-leaders for Endangered Species Act issues and say they are "actively working with members of Congress to update the act."

"We knew we were on the right track with these recommendations, when our letter to members of Congress garnered the support of Western State Land Commissioners and three very respected environmental groups: the Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, and the World Wildlife Fund," Freudenthal said.

"My colleagues and I heartily affirm the goals of the Endangered Species Act, but agree that it could stand some targeted reforms - common- sense changes to make it work better, less confusing, and less litigious."

Brad DeVries with Defenders of Wildlife confirmed from his office in Washington that the conservation group supports more participation from the states in shaping the Endangered Species Act. "We never said it had to be all federal all the time," said DeVries.

Yet, Defenders of Wildlife does not support all changes to the Act being proposed in Congress.

Vice President Jamie Rappaport Clark, who headed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration, warned a Senate hearing in May that, "Efforts currently underway in the House of Representatives to alter the Act should definitely undergo some serious scrutiny. Amid claims that the Act is not adequately protecting wildlife, we have only seen legislation that would weaken those protections."

On a related issue, a charter creating the Sagebrush Conservation Council was approved by the Western Governors' Association today. and will assist dozens of local working groups across the West to develop or complete conservation plans for the Greater Sage Grouse and to coordinate their efforts.

Governor Kenny Guinn of Nevada, a Republican, who could not attend today's meeting, is the co-leader with Owens for the governors association's sage grouse conservation program.

"We are witnessing an unprecedented conservation effort that has helped keep the Greater Sage Grouse from being listed as threatened," he said. "Eleven states and more than a hundred organizations are working together to protect the Greater Sage Grouse and the sagebrush ecosystem. This council will go a long ways toward encouraging current and future efforts to protect the sage grouse and the sagebrush habitat it and many other species depend on for their survival."

But conservation groups say the grouse should be listed as threatened or event as endangered under the Act.

American Lands Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, The Larch Company, and Sinapu were unsuccessful in their legal action last year to get the grouse listed. Conservationists were disappointed, but not surprised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision in December 2004 to recommend denying protection to the greater sage grouse under the Act.

The Service had previously reported that the sage grouse has declined at least 69 percent from historic numbers.

"Sage grouse have suffered precipitous declines in recent decades," said Mark Salvo, director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. "A listing would have required the federal government to protect sagebrush habitat where the sage grouse lives. By not listing the species, damaging activities will be allowed to continue on much of the sagebrush steppe, to the detriment of sage grouse and scores of other wildlife species."

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Radiation Monitors Placed at Busiest U.S. Seaports

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the nation’s busiest seaports - Los Angeles and Long Beach, California - will have complete Radiation Portal Monitor (RPM) coverage by the end of this year.

Three terminal locations, at Piers 400, 300 and Trans Pacific, within the Port of Los Angeles are scheduled to go on-line by the end of June.

By the end of December, a total of 90 monitors will screen all international container traffic and vehicles leaving the facility for nuclear materials or hidden sources of radiation, Chertoff said earlier this month.

Radiation Portal Monitors are detection devices that provide U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers with a passive, non-intrusive means to screen containers, vessels or vehicles for the presence of nuclear and radiological materials.

These systems do not emit radiation but are capable of detecting various types of radiation emanating from nuclear devices, dirty bombs, special nuclear materials, natural sources, and isotopes used in medicine and industry.

On April 26, Oakland’s Seaport became the first in the country to have complete coverage. RPMs at the LA/Long Beach Seaports will complement existing cargo security measures to include, five mobile gamma-ray and two X-Ray scanners, personal radiation detectors, and isotope identification devices.

“By applying advanced technology, we will soon be able to screen every vehicle and container entering the nation’s busiest seaports for nuclear and radiological materials, without disrupting the free flow of trade," said Chertoff.

"Complete and efficient coverage at the LA/Long Beach Seaports is a major step forward for national security and a model for other ports,” he said.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach Seaports receive about 44 percent of all sea cargo destined for the United States. More than 4.3 million foreign cargo containers arrived at the the two seaports last year - an average of one container every seven seconds.

The Department of Homeland Security implements a multi-layered strategy for screening cargo shipped into the United States. One layer is the installation of RPMs at seaports, land border ports of entry and crossings nationwide.

The RPM coverage is planned to include rail crossings, international airports, and international mail and express consignment courier facilities, in an effort to screen 100 percent of all incoming goods, people, and conveyances for radiation.

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EPA Denies Chesapeake Bay Foundation Bid for Pollution Regs

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - Regulations recommended by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) to reduce pollution in the nation's largest estuary have been rejected by federal and state officials.

In a letter today to Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water denied the foundation's December 2003 petition for new regulations to control pollution from point sources around the Chesapeake Bay.

Benjamin Grumbles wrote, "EPA agrees with CBF that a strong National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program is a necessary element of an effective strategy for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. We believe, however, that the current regulatory program, combined with the goals and commitments established in Chesapeake 2000, establish the correct framework for achieving these, or even greater, point source nutrient reductions, sooner and more efficiently."

The discharge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater treatment is one of the key problems affecting the Bay. Excessive nutrients can cause algae blooms that lead to oxygen depletion and block sunlight that supports plant and aquatic life.

"EPA has determined that existing regulations, coupled with the collaborative partnership outlined in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, will get us results faster than developing new federal rules," Grumbles said today.

"Recent actions taken by Maryland, Virginia and other Bay partners will help to ensure that we achieve and maintain our restoration goals for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries," he said.

In December 2004, the EPA and the Bay state partners agreed to a unified permitting strategy, requiring hundreds of wastewater treatment plants to have enforceable limits on nutrient pollution. This strategy will result in more than an 18.5 million pound reduction in the amount of nutrient pollution that fouls the Bay annually, Grumbles said.

In keeping with those agreements, both Maryland and Virginia are moving to issue new water quality standards. Virginia is expected to submit its standards to the EPA for final approval this month.

Last week Maryland announced an additional comment period for the proposal of its revised standards. Once completed, Maryland's standards would require each of its major sewage treatment facilities to cut nutrient pollution.

"Maryland is leading the charge with Governor [Robert] Ehrlich's landmark Bay Restoration Fund and is making excellent progress through other legislative, regulatory, and administrative activities related to wastewater treatment in urban and agricultural areas," said Maryland Environment Secretary Kendl Philbrick.

"The new water quality standards are vital in our effort to preserve and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its irreplaceable cultural, economic, and recreational resources," Philbrick said. "With the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay permitting strategy, we will ensure that Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries can achieve and maintain the water quality standards required by the federal Clean Water Act."

Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said, "Eliminating the impairment of the Chesapeake Bay can be achieved only with the full participation of Pennsylvania and other upstream states. Our Commonwealth is a full partner in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit strategy, and we are poised to begin implementing the new Maryland water quality standards immediately upon adoption."

In March, Virginia became the second state in the country to enact legislation adopting a nutrient trading program. The first legislation of its kind within the Chesapeake Bay, the new law sets a watershed limit on the amount of nutrient pollution that can pour into the Bay.

"We are moving to meet our nutrient reduction commitments with regulatory, statutory and funding programs that have been praised by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, EPA and others," said W. Tayloe Murphy, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources. "We see no need to alter the firm path we are on with actions that may lead to unnecessary delays."

When the legislation was announced, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised Virginia officials for the measures. “CBF salutes the General Assembly, Governor Warner and Secretary of Natural Resources Tayloe Murphy,” said Ann Jennings, CBF Virginia executive director. “Their actions represent real and significant progress in the efforts to reduce pollution and clean up Virginia’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Together they represent an historic milestone toward fulfilling the state’s clean water commitments to Virginia’s citizens and future generations.”

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Ground Level Ozone Levels Linked to Risk of Death

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - Three independent research reviews commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and published in the July issue of "Epidemiology" all link daily levels of ground level ozone pollution, a major component of smog, to an increased risk of death.

The three papers - from Yale, Harvard and New York University - were statistical reviews of previous research data. By combining results from many studies, patterns can emerge that are not apparent in the individual studies.

Although the researchers worked independently, using a broad range of studies and applying varying statistical methods, all studies had the same goal - to assess whether death rates increase on days with high levels of ozone pollution - and if so, how much.

Dr. Michelle Bell of Yale University and colleagues found a statistically significant relationship between ozone and short-term mortality rates using two different datasets. The effect was particularly strong for cardiovascular and respiratory causes of death, in elderly people, and for same-day ozone levels.

For each 10 parts per billion (ppb) increase in daily ozone level, the total death rate for that day and the two following days increased by 0.87 percent. This relationship remained consistent after adjustment for other factors, including levels of particulate pollutants.

The analysis by Dr. Jonathan Levy and colleagues of Harvard School of Public Health found a very similar increase of 0.86 percent per 10 ppb. Most of the ozone-related increase occurred during the summer months. In this study, the relationship between ozone and mortality appeared weaker in areas with high rates of home central air conditioning.

The analytic approach taken by Dr. Kazuhiko Ito and colleagues of New York University suggested a smaller overall effect of ozone on death rates, but confirmed that the main effect occurred during the warm months.

Analysis of data from 23 geographic locations around the world confirmed a significant relation between ozone and mortality in all but five regions. The relationship was strongest in Brisbane, Australia, and Mexico City - cities where ozone levels remain fairly constant year-round.

Previous studies have found increased rates of health problems on days with high levels of ozone pollution, especially in children and older adults with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

In an editorial commentary, Dr. Steven Goodman of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine highlights the fact that three independent research groups reached such consistent conclusions, despite using different methods and operating under differing assumptions.

Dr. Goodman points out some weaknesses of the statistical methods used, especially the use of pooled data from many single-site studies. A 14 year follow-up study of air quality from 95 U.S. cities suggests that ozone's effect on death rates may be smaller, though still statistically significant.

Very large, multi-site studies would be needed to provide the data needed for more definitive conclusions on the health risks of ozone, he said.

A commentary by Dr. David Bates of University of British Columbia published in the journal points out that the new studies are timely, because the EPA is planning a review of federal ozone standards in 2005.

Added to previous research showing harmful health effects of ozone pollution, the new studies "point to the urgent need to reduce public exposures to ambient ozone by all possible means," Dr. Bates concludes.

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Wolverine Survival At Stake in Montana Court

MISSOULA, Montana, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - Four conservation groups have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to consider new legal protections for the wolverine, the largest member of the weasel family.

"Everything we know about the wolverine tells us that this species is under siege from trapping in Montana and habitat disruption throughout its entire range," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the groups in the lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

Earthjustice is representing Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

"We shouldn't wait until the last few wolverines are trapped before we take action to protect this rare species," Preso said.

The wolverine once ranged across the northern states from Maine to Washington, and south into New York's Adirondack mountains. About the size of a bear cub, the wolverine ranged across the Rocky Mountains as far south as Arizona and New Mexico, and roamed the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and Siskiyou Mountains as far south as California.

Today the wolverine is known to exist only in the northern Cascades of Washington and the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Infrequent, unconfirmed wolverine sightings continue to be reported in Oregon and California.

The remaining wolverines face growing threats. Despite their scarcity, wolverines continue to be lawfully trapped under Montana state law.

Expanding snowmobiling and helicopter skiing are crowding wolverine denning habitat in high alpine basins.

In addition, the wolverine’s wilderness habitat continues to be chipped away by logging, mining, and associated roadbuilding.

Recognizing these threats, the groups submitted a petition to the Service in July 2000 asking that the wolverine be added to the Endangered Species Act’s list of endangered and threatened species.

However, in October 2003 the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the groups’ request for a full scientific review of the wolverine’s status, which is the first step in the listing process, citing a lack of conclusive data.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration decided that it didn't want to list the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, and has done everything it can to avoid facing the science indicating that this animal is in danger," said Mike Senatore of Defenders of Wildlife. "If we don’t act now, today's generations may see the last days for the wolverine in the Lower 48 states."

s "A lot of scientific information has recently emerged to indicate that the wolverine is in trouble - we just need the federal government to pay attention to it," added Joseph Vaile of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "The Endangered Species Act is the best tool we have to ensure that the wolverine does not fade into myth and legend, but remains a component of our natural heritage."

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Falsifying Wetland Permit Form Costly for New Jersey Developer

TRENTON, New Jersey, June 13, 2005 (ENS) - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has fined a developer and two land use professionals a total of $738,000 for falsifying information in a freshwater wetland permit application for a residential development.

The applicants withheld information in an effort to develop wetland areas protected under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.

They were attempting to build the proposed 155-unit Twin Brooks Village adult community in Tinton Falls. The area at issue is about six miles from the Jersey shore west of Asbury Park. It is across a set of railroad tracks from the Naval Weapons Station Earle.

"This penalty sends a clear signal to land use professionals willing to submit false or misleading information to DEP: you will be punished," said Commissioner Bradley Campbell. "In too many cases, lawbreaking consultants have used false submittals to conceal risks and to skirt the requirements of the law."

Gregory S. Blash & Associates, Air, Land And Sea Environmental Management Services, Inc. and Twin Brooks Village, LLC., in November 2004 jointly submitted an application for a letter of interpretation and freshwater wetland transition area waiver.

The application failed to identify approximately 107,000 square feet of obvious freshwater wetlands, freshwater wetland transition areas, and state open waters on the site of the proposed development, the DEP said.

The permit application proposed the construction of parking lots, roads and condominiums within protected natural resource areas such as a 5,000 square foot pond and extensive freshwater wetlands.

On February 17, the DEP issued a notice of violation to each respondent for failing to identify in the application all features which would be relevant to determining compliance with the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act.

The applicant, Twin Brook Village, LLC, withdrew the application for the development on March 23. The respondents may request a hearing to appeal DEP's penalty assesment within 20 days.

In a related enforcement action, DEP fined the project's surveyor, John P. Houwen of B&B Hi-Tech Solutions, Inc., $41,000 for failing to identify pertinent on-site freshwater wetlands and state open waters.

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