Supreme Court Upholds Endangered Species ActWASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - By declining to hear a case on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can use the Endangered Species Act to keep land developers out of habitat needed by listed species.
In the case, GDF Realty Investments v. Norton, the Service denied a permit to a Texas landowner, GDF Realty, to build on an undeveloped piece of its property west of Austin because development might disturb six endangered species of small insects that live in nearby caves.
The developers planned to build apartment, a Wal-Mart and other office and retail facilities.
The developer even offered to donate portions of the land to a nonprofit conservation group, but was rebuffed by government officials.
Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, ruled against the developer.
The appeals court decided that although the six insect species do not have an impact on commerce, all endangered species as a whole do have an impact.
It is from that viewpoint that the authority of Congress over endangered species should be evaluated, the appellate court said.
On September 3, 2004, the Washington Legal Foundation filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, urging it to review and ultimately reverse, the appeals court decision.
The plaintiff realty company said the appeals court ruling gives the Fish and Wildlife Service "essentially unlimited authority to regulate local land development across the country in the name of protecting endangered species."
The Washington Legal Foundation argued that the Commerce Clause "does not permit the federal government to exercise control over private property when, as here, the beetles the government is seeking to protect have absolutely no commercial value and have no effect on interstate commerce."
Clean Drinking Water Will Cost Billions in Capital InvestmentWASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - The nation's water utilities will need to invest an estimated $277 billion over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) third Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that the EPA conduct an assessment of the national public water system capital improvement needs every four years.
This report to Congress, which reflects data collected in 2003, documents anticipated costs for repairs and replacement of transmission and distribution pipes, storage and treatment equipment, and projects that are necessary to deliver safe supplies of drinking water.
"Water infrastructure is a lifeline for community health and prosperity," said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for the Office of Water. "As our communities grow, so too must the commitment of the government and citizens to sustainable financing, innovative management and technology, and efficient use of water."
The purpose of the survey is to document the 20 year capital investment needs of public water systems that are eligible to receive federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund monies - some 54,000 community water systems and 21,400 not-for-profit non-community water systems.
This large investment need reflects the challenges confronting water utilities as they deal with aging infrastructures that may have been constructed 50 to 100 years ago.
Water utilities pay for infrastructure using revenue from rates charged to customers and may finance large projects using loans or bonds, state funding programs, and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
The report is developed in consultation with a workgroup of consisting state, American Indian, Alaska Native Village, and water utility representatives.
Nearly 4,000 public water systems participated in the survey. All 1,342 of the nation's large water systems, serving more than 40,000 people, responded to the survey. A random sample of about one-third of the 7,337 medium systems, serving 3,301 to 40,000 people, was taken.
For small community water systems, serving 3,300 and fewer people, American Indian systems, Alaska native village systems, and not-for-profit noncommunity systems, EPA used results of the 1999 assessment that were derived from extensive field efforts and adjusted the needs to January 2003 dollars.
Results from the assessment are used to develop a formula to distribute Drinking Water State Revolving Fund grants.
Since the program began in 1997, EPA has made available nearly $8 billion in funding to states for infrastructure projects to help utilities provide safe drinking water. States supplement their EPA grants by matching funds and with bonds, repayments and interest earnings.
The report and related information are available at: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/needssurvey.
Illinois Water Tastes BestSAN FRANCISCO, California, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - When it comes to flavor, the drinking water in Champaign, Illinois beat the rest in a taste test.
Illinois American Water, Champaign District won top honors today at the American Water Works Association's (AWWA) Water Taste Test held at the organization's 124th Annual Conference and Exposition in San Francisco.
The national competition pitted regional water-tasting winners against one another in an in-depth water profile analysis.
"We take a lot of pride in delivery the best quality water to our customers," said Walter Voegel, production operations superintendent, Illinois American Water. "This win is truly a testament to the hard work of the employees of Illinois American Water.
Illinois American, which provides water to Champaign residents and re-sells water to three other Illinois towns, previously won the Illinois Section AWWA tasting competition.
Other regional winners competing for the national honor included Catoosa, Georgia Utility District, and Hawaii's Kahili Mountain Park Water System on the island of Kauai, as well as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
A judging panel rated each water system on taste and odor, the determining flavor characteristics.
s The judges said it was a close competition decided by very few points. They agreed that the Illinois America water tasted both pure and slightly sweet, a high quality water.
The conference is attended by more than 12,000 water professionals and 500 exhibitors. It features a professional program with more than 100 sessions. Topics covered will include infrastructure management, security, emerging issues, water conservation and water resources, and legislative and regulatory issues.
Feds Sued for Shutting Cosmetics Out of Organic ProgramWASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - A consumers group and an organic soap company are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to keep access to the National Organic Program for qualifying non-food products.
The Organic Consumers Association and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps / Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic, makers of certified organic food grade lotions, lip balms and body balms, jointly filed the lawsuit in federal court today.
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeks a court order to stop a new USDA policy that attempts to ban any labeling or marketing of products that are certified to comply with the National Organic Program (NOP) standards.
The new policy will go into effect on October 21, unless the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.
"It is our responsibility to fight the USDA's illegal policy which discourages organic farming, wipes out millions of dollars in investment in certified organic non-food products and violates basic rule making procedures in the Administrative Procedures Act," says Ronnie Cummins, founder and national director of the Organic Consumers Association.
In a foundational May 2002 Policy Statement on the scope of the National Organic Program, the USDA made clear that producers of non-food products such as personal care containing agricultural ingredients "are eligible to seek certification under the NOP."
Based on this "Policy Statement," Dr. Bronner's and other producers of body care products and other non-food products such as pet foods invested in sourcing and formulating with NOP certified organic ingredients. They sought and obtained certification under the NOP, which allowed them to label and market their products as certified "organic" or "made with organic" under the NOP and use the organic seal.
Certifying agencies understood the Policy Statement to authorize such certification.
In April 2004, the USDA issued a Guidance Statement reversing this position and indicating that producers of personal care products would not be eligible to seek certification.
A month later due to consumer and industry outcry, that Guidance Statement was rescinded by then Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.
But last month, the USDA issued an informal "response" to a statement of the National Organic Standards Board and, in that response, indicated again that personal care products are not eligible to be labeled in accordance with the National Organic Program.
The newest USDA policy mirrors the rescinded Guidance Statement, and contradicts the foundational 2002 USDA policy that formally invited body care companies to invest in certifying National Organic Program qualified products, the lawsuit claims.
David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, said, "Having issued a policy statement intended to have a binding effect, on which Dr. Bronner's and other companies justifiably relied, NOP cannot suddenly, without notice or opportunity for comment, adopt a new policy and purport to make it enforceable against producers of personal care products."
"We have been advised that, under well established principles under the Administrative Procedure Act, to adopt such a change in its previously established policy, USDA is required to proceed by notice and comment rulemaking," he said.
Lynn Betz, co-founder and president of Sensibility Soaps, Inc. said, "As a certified processor under the USDA NOP since July 2003, our company developed 21 personal care products, which were certified "organic" by PA Certified Organic using the current NOP food standards."
"Since the scope of the NOP included personal care products, and products carrying the seal were legitimately certified, why should these products now be excluded?" she asks.
"Organic olive oil does not become magically non-organic when used in a lotion instead of a salad dressing," said Bronner. "Consumers and retailers want personal care that is nothing less than organic food for the skin. High quality certified organic body care products like ours should be distinguishable from low-quality so-called "organic" personal care that is based on standard conventional synthetic ingredients."
Forest Service Withdraws Grand Canyon Old Growth Timber SaleTUCSON, Arizona, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn a decision to log old-growth forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon near Jacob Lake, Arizona.
The project would have logged old growth across about 17,000 acres of national forest land and cleared a 100 foot swath of trees on each side of Highways 67 and 89A, under the justification that it would "improve" the scenic quality of the forest-lined drive by reducing what the Forest Service called a "monotonous" and "tunnel-like" driving experience.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Southwest Forest Alliance, and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club appealed the Jacob Ryan timber sale decision last March.
"We are delighted the Forest Service has agreed with us and reversed course on this project," said Erik Ryberg of the Center for Biological Diversity, who authored the appeal. "We hope the Forest Service will move ahead with legitimate thinning in wildland-urban interface areas and leave the backcountry old-growth alone."
"The problem with this project," said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter, "is that it would log some of the last, best habitat for old-growth dependent wildlife, without addressing legitimate fuel buildup problems. It was clear to us that this was just another commercial old growth timber sale on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, targeting the best and biggest trees."
The groups' appeal also challenged the highway thinning portion of the project, which would have removed old growth and trees up to 40 inches in diameter from 100 feet along each side of the highway that goes to the Grand Canyon National Park.
Ryberg contends that some of the best wildlife habitat remaining in the area is along the road. "For decades they have been logging this place, just out of view of the highway, and leaving the trees along the road alone. Now those stands along the roadside have the biggest trees remaining," he said.
Deputy Regional Forester Abel Camarena reversed the decision and ordered the Kaibab National Forest to re-analyze the impacts of the project and issue a new decision that adequately addresses the issues raised by the appellants, noting particularly the logging along the highways and the impacts to soil productivity from the planned logging.
Southwest Forest Alliance Executive Director, Sharon Galbreath, called Camarena's decision to uphold the groups' appeal a major victory for the forest. "Over 60,000 old growth trees have been destroyed on the North Kaibab in the last seven timber sales. The Forest Service's rejection of this project is a real victory and a positive step towards protecting the last five percent of old growth that remains."
Cell Phone Towers to Sprout Across National Parks
WASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - Citing public safety, National Park Service officials are inviting telecommunication companies to erect cell towers on national park lands, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The national organization represents natural resource workers at all levels of government.
Invoking public safety concerns, officials in many parks are welcoming cell towers as a way for visitors and their own staff to communicate, but PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch calls the proof behind these public safety arguments "elusive."
None of these parks raised any public safety worries until recently, after telecommunication companies approached them, says Ruch.
Of all the country's 388 national park units, only the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has a plan governing placement of cell phone towers, PEER points out. In all the other parks, the telecom company picks the tower location.
"With no national debate and almost zero public input, our national parks are simply giving away whatever solitude and serenity remains," said Ruch.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, straddling the Pennsylvania and New Jersey shores of the Delaware River, has eight applications for cell phone towers from competing telecom companies.
Yellowstone National Park, which already has five cell towers that provide coverage over most of the park, is considering overtures for as many as three other towers. Yellowstone officials announced two years ago that they would develop an "antenna management plan,” but, to date, the planning process has been closed to the public, PEER says.
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, with the world’s most extensive cave system, recently approved an application by Bluegrass Cellular to construct a 180 foot cell tower that will extendge to many parts of the backcountry, including some Wilderness Study Areas.
Alternatives to Ozone Depleting Methyl Bromide Sought
FORT PIERCE, Florida, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - Alternatives to a pesticide that damages the stratospheric ozone layer are now being evaluated in agricultural production areas of Florida, say plant pathologists with the federal Agricultural Research Service.
In 1987, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol required the worldwide phaseout of methyl bromide, a soil fumigant used to protect more than 100 crops by controlling soilborne fungi, nematodes, and weeds.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that, under the Clean Air Act, phaseout of methyl bromide must begin by 2001, with complete phaseout scheduled for 2005.
Currently, only uses deemed as essential by the international Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee can obtain the chemical.
Because methyl bromide is considered essential for the production of pepper, strawberry, tomato, and floriculture crops in Florida, scientists in many disciplines have been researching chemical and non-chemical methyl bromide replacements.
Soil solarization, a technique that captures radiant heat energy from the sun, is one non-chemical alternative to methyl bromide. Another is the use of biological agents to enhance disease resistance such as plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), which are beneficial soil bacteria that colonize plant roots and protect against disease.
"An integrated approach that utilizes biologically based pest management tactics, such as PGPRs, soil solarization, and biological control agents combined with crop rotations and cover crops will be a necessity in the future," said Erin Rosskopf, with the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida.
"A multi-tactic approach is becoming increasingly important as many agricultural chemicals undergo intense scrutiny with regard to human toxicity an environmental impact," she said.
A number of chemical alternatives to methyl bromide are also being investigated for use in the short term, "due to the urgency driven by the phase-out plan," said Rosskopf.
"It is critical," she said, "that research in these areas continues to move forward so that the next phase-out does not result in decreased vegetable or ornamental production in Florida and the rest of the U.S."
New Jersey Halts Horseshoe Crab Harvest to Feed Birds
TRENTON, New Jersey, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey has placed an emergency moratorium on the hand harvesting of horseshoe crabs to allow late arriving shorebirds time to feed on horseshoe crab eggs.
Surveys of the Delaware Bay noted the arrival this week of more than 3,000 red knots - critically threatened shorebirds that depend on horseshoe crab eggs to sustain their flights to the Arctic.
The red knots arrived much later in the season than usual. The temporary ban on horseshoe crab harvesting will allow the birds unencumbered access to feed and to proceed on their annual migration.
The ban will also provide New Jersey time to obtain and to review all available data on the status of the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population, said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.
"The stunning decline in red knot numbers combined with the late arrival of these shorebirds this year makes clear that temporary emergency action is needed to protect these threatened natural resources,” Campbell said.
"New Jersey will do everything in our authority to halt the decline of the red knot while protecting the horseshoe crab population and fishery," he said.
Fisherman had only one day to legally harvest the crabs before the emergency two-week moratorium took effect Friday.
The season will reopen on June 23 and run through the normal closing date of August 15. Fishermen will still be permitted to catch up to the maximum 150,000 crab quota.
Delaware Bay’s beaches are the principal egg-laying grounds for the world's largest concentration of horseshoe crabs, and they attract the Western Hemisphere’s second largest spring concentration of migrating shorebirds.
Scientists this year have noted the lowest concentration of horseshoe crab eggs ever on the beaches - only 1,500 eggs per square meter, down from about 4,000 eggs per square meter just five years ago.
The red knot population in Delaware Bay has declined from 95,000 in 1989 to around 15,000 in recent years.
New Jersey is calling for the emergency federal endangered species listing of the red knot. New Jersey will also work with the state of Delaware to coordinate baywide efforts to protect the populations of red knots and horseshoe crabs. Financial assistance to New Jersey fishermen if harvests continue to be limited in the future is being considered.