AmeriScan: June 21, 2005

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Shark Finning Ban in Eastern Pacific Likely

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - Shark finning in the eastern Pacific Ocean is likely to be banned this week by governments that are members of a regional fisheries management body meeting in Spain. Shark finning is the practice of slicing the fin off the shark and discarding the carcass to save space on a fishing vessel.

Members of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) gathered in Lanzarote, Spain to consider fishery management and conservation measures are poised to ban shark finning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is representing the United States at the meeting.

The commission has been considering proposals to end shark finning in the eastern Pacific Ocean for more than a year, NOAA said.

"Recent increases in shark catches, as well as an expansion of the geographic areas fished, have led to global concern about the status of some shark populations. International cooperation is critical as many species of sharks are highly migratory, and regularly cross national boundaries throughout all oceans of the world," NOAA said in a statement Monday.

In 1993, NOAA prohibited U.S. vessels from shark finning in waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The United States proclaimed shark finning to be a wasteful practice in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act adopted by Congress in 2000. In 2002, the finning prohibition was extended to apply to all persons under U.S. jurisdiction, including all U.S. vessels fishing in Pacific waters.

Most IATTC signatory nations have already expressed their agreement with the spirit of the proposals. An international ban in the Pacific is now considered by many to be ripe for approval, given that an international shark finning ban for the Atlantic Ocean was adopted in November 2004.

In November 63 countries, including the United States, reached an agreement in New Orleans to ban shark finning in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean Sea. This binding agreement was formally adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), and is now being implemented by all member countries.

The ICCAT agreement is now on the table for consideration at the meeting in Lanzarote. NOAA said Monday, "It is widely expected that this measure will be given serious consideration and adopted, given the momentum of recent events."

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Atlantic Whale Take Reduction Plan Open for Comment

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - To reduce entanglements of large whales in commercial fishing gear along the U.S. East Coast, the NOAA Fisheries Service today announced publication of a proposed rule that would require gear modification and changes in fishing boundaries.

The rule would revise the agency's current regulations under the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan (ALWTRP) to require more trap/pot and gillnet fisheries to use modified gear. Fishers would also have to reduce the use of line that hangs vertically in the water or floats along the ocean bottom and expand gear marking requirements.

The agency also proposes to revise boundaries and seasons for management areas and exempted waters, where the rules would not apply.

"We believe this proposed rule contains the best options we can put in place now to further reduce whale entanglements," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries Service director. "We continue to work with researchers, fishermen, conservationists and other colleagues to understand the problem, and to find ways to reduce serious injury and mortality of large whales due to incidental entanglement in fishing gear."

The Atlantic large whales include the western North Atlantic population of right whales, the Gulf of Maine humpback whales, and the western North Atlantic fin whales.

North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, and fin whales are considered strategic stocks because they are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires the preparation and implementation of Take Reduction Plans for strategic marine mammal stocks that interact with fisheries that have either frequent or occasional incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals.

NOAA Fisheries Service issued a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the action on February 25 with detailed analysis of the impacts that six proposed alternatives would have on the human environment, including biological, social and economic impacts.

The western North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest of all large cetaceans and among the most endangered species in the world. NOAA Fisheries considers the best estimate of the number of North Atlantic right whales to be approximately 300 plus or minus 10 percent.

For the Gulf of Maine stock of humpback whales, the agency estimates a minimum population size of 647. The fin whale populations is estimated at a minimum of 2,362 whales.

Atlantic large whales are at risk of becoming entangled in fishing gear because the whales feed, travel, and breed in many of the same ocean areas utilized for commercial fishing, NOAA says. While fishing gear is in the water, whales may become incidentally entangled in the lines and nets that make up trap/pot and gillnet fishing gear. The effects of entanglement can range from no permanent injury to serious injury and death.

The plan consists of restrictions on where and how gear can be set; research into whale populations, whale behavior, and fishing gear; outreach to inform fishermen of the entanglement problem and to seek their help in understanding and solving the problem; enforcement efforts to help increase compliance; and a program to disentangle whales that do get caught in gear.

The fisheries affected include the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot fishery, the Northeast sink gillnet fishery, the Southeast Atlantic gillnet fishery, the Southeastern U.S. Atlantic shark gillnet fishery, and the Mid-Atlantic coastal gillnet fishery.

The agency held 13 public hearings on the DEIS from Maine to Florida during March and April, and says staff "will consider and respond to comments received on the DEIS and proposed rule," as the final rule is developed.

The proposed rule and DEIS are found online at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/hotnews/whales/

NOAA Fisheries Service will accept comments on the proposed rule through July 21, 2005. Comments can be submitted by mail, email and fax. Contact Diane Borggaard, NOAA Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office, (978) 281-9300 ext. 6503.

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BLM to Facilitate Wind Energy Development on Public Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has laid the environmental groundwork to speed up the permitting of wind energy in the 11 western public-land states, excluding Alaska.

In remarks today before the Congressional Renewable Energy EXPO in Washington, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Rebecca Watson announced the release of the agency's study, "The Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Wind Energy Development on BLM-Administered Lands in the Western United States."

"It should pave the way for development of more than 3200 megawatts of wind energy on public lands in 11 western states," Watson told the conference delegates. "That’s enough energy to power almost one million homes.”

The study addresses the environmental, social and economic impacts associated with the development of wind energy on public lands.

“Our quality of life and economic security are dependent on a stable and abundant supply of affordable energy,” Watson said. “Encouraging the production and development of renewable energy sources, including wind energy, on our public lands is a way to help meet the energy needs of the nation, as well as those of growing communities in the West.”

The study analyzes three alternatives for managing wind energy development on BLM- administered lands:

  1. the proposed action, which would implement a Wind Energy Development Program, establish policies and best-management practices for wind energy right-of-way authorizations, and amend 52 BLM land-use plans

  2. the no-action alternative, which would allow continued wind energy development under the terms and conditions of the BLM Interim Wind Energy Development Policy

  3. a limited-wind-energy-development alternative, which would allow wind-energy development only in selected locations.
“This EIS proposes a consistent, agency-wide approach to wind energy permitting that will support and expedite site-specific analysis of individual wind projects,” Watson said.

The EIS examines issues common to most wind energy development projects, adopts best-management practices to minimize impacts and amends land-use plans to facilitate wind development.

Along with the proposed land-use plan amendments, the Final Programmatic EIS also includes the identification of specific areas where wind energy development would not be allowed.

The EIS comes in response to recommendations set forth in the President George W. Bush’s National Energy Policy, which encourages the development of renewable energy resources on public lands.

Work on the EIS began in October 2003 and included extensive community meetings in the West and opportunities for public comment. The document addresses wind- energy development on BLM-administered lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The Final Programmatic EIS is online at: http://windeis.anl.gov and will be published in the Federal Register on June 24, 2005.

Public lands administered by the Interior Department produce about half of geothermal energy, 17 percent of hydropower, and seven percent of the wind energy currently generated in the United States.

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New Grazing Rules for Public Lands Cut Non-Ranchers Out

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - New Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulations released last week give new rights to the livestock industry on the 160 million acres of public land leased by ranchers and make it harder for the average citizen to participate in on the ground decisionmaking, two conservation groups say.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Forest Guardians say the revisions will no longer require the BLM to consult with the public on designating and adjusting allotment boundaries, renewing and issuing grazing permits and leases, modifying permits or leases, or issuing temporary permits or leases.

"This means that citizens will no longer be informed or have opportunity to participate in the management of our public lands," the groups said.

The agency said the regulations were changed for the purpose of “improving BLM’s working relationships with ranchers.”

“The Bush administration is making it clear that they want to take the ‘public’ out of public lands,” said Billy Stern with Forest Guardians.

BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said, “This environmental impact study shows that grazing management under the new regulations will produce long-term rangeland health benefits. These benefits include increased vegetation along stream banks, which will reduce soil erosion and provide more habitats for wildlife.”

Under the new regulations, she noted, the BLM’s grazing management decisions will be based on better information about rangeland conditions.

"That sounds wonderful," said Stern. "However, only one of more than a dozen changes to the regulation has any potential benefit to streams and wildlife, while the rest move forward the administration’s agenda of privatizing public lands and limiting public involvement.”

The regulations give the livestock industry title to future structures, such as fences, wells and pipelines built at government expense for the benefit of the industry. This means compensation would be required if the lease or permit was revoked.

The new rules remove the requirement for the BLM to seek ownership of the water rights associated with federal land, when they become available under state law. The livestock industry argues that ranchers have a right to graze on any land near their water rights, even if they do not own the land.

The regulations expand the definition of “grazing preference” linking it to a specific amount of forage, rather than a specific area or “allotment.” This means with any decrease in forage due to drought, weed invasion or generally declining conditions, livestock would be given preference to forage over wildlife or wild horses.

The regulations modify the definition of “interested public” in a way that would exclude newcomers to an area from participating in livestock grazing decisions, since they would have had no chance to comment of previous decisions, and burdens the rest of the public by requiring continuing involvement to maintain “interested public” status even if they are only interested in specific decisions.

Public involvement is removed from biological assessments and evaluations done for wildlife, even if they could have contributed new scientific documentation or evidence. This leaves such studies to be written “in house” and reviewed and revised only by government officials who may or may not have wildlife or ecological expertise.

The new rules allow livestock grazing permit holders who have violated BLM laws and regulation on one allotment to continue to hold other permits, leaving these areas vulnerable to further violations and ecological damage.

“These new regs are an unethical political scam from Interior Dept. political appointees in Washington DC," said Daniel Patterson, ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked with the BLM.

"BLM is trying to reverse years of progress on rangeland restoration to serve a handful of cowmen at great cost to the public-interest,” said Patterson. “Wildlife, water quality, hunting, and fishing on public lands will suffer great harm if the Bush BLM has its way.”

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Environmental Groups Win Reconsideration of EPA Boiler Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - Responding to the concerns of two environmental groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reopening for public comment certain aspects of its National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters, issued in September 2004.

The agency is taking this action in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

Facilities may comply with the requirements of the September 2004 final rule by demonstrating that their emissions have minimal impact on human health. This approach, known as a health-based compliance alternative, is outlined in appendix A of the rule.

In this reconsideration, the EPA is requesting additional public comment on the approach a facility owner or operator may use to demonstrate eligibility for the health-based compliance alternatives.

In their petition, the environmental groups asks for reconsideration and request a stay of the health-based alternatives.

Although EPA is not granting the petitioners' request for a stay, the agency will provide a 45-day comment period, which begins with the reconsideration notice's publication in the Federal Register.

The boiler and process heater rule covers about 58,000 existing units as well as some 800 new units planned for the near future. They are used by refiners, chemical and manufacturing plants, paper mills, and are used to heat large complexes such as shopping malls and university heating systems.s

The EPA estimates that this rule will reduce total annual air toxics between 50,600 - 58,500 tons per year at full implementation in the fifth year after promulgation, with compliance costs estimated to total $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion in the same period.

For more information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fact_sheets/boilerrecon_fs.html

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Transgenic Trees Pose Risks for Natural Foresters, Orchardists

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - Participants at BioDemocracy 2005, the alternative conference to the Biotechnology Industry Organization's yearly gathering, are demanding a ban on the release of genetically engineered (GE) trees into the environment.

"Genetically engineered trees are already being researched in the field, and industry is moving rapidly toward commercialization without regard for the predictable and inevitable impacts they will have on ecosystems and communities," four conservation groups said in a statement today.

The Sierra Club, the Global Justice Ecology Project, Southern Forests Network and STOP GE Trees Campaign say there has been little risk assessment on the impacts of gene drift from genetically modified trees, and they charge that regulatory agencies are acting as facilitators for industry rather than champions of the public interest.

"Gene drift has caused widespread contamination of non-GE seeds in farm crops less than a decade after commercialization," said Alyx Perry, coordinator of the Southern Forests Network. "GE trees will much more quickly contaminate forests with traits that could make them incapable of producing sawtimber and unable to support wildlife," said Perry.

Test plots of genetically engineered in the Southeast threaten to contaminate the forests of Pennsylvania and the entire east coast of the United States and Canada, the groups warn.

"Transgenic forestry focuses on native trees species that have pollen and seeds historically known to travel for hundreds if not thousands of miles," they said today.

Legal concerns are being raised about the potential escape of genetically modified tree pollen or seeds into native trees. The conservationists cite the Canadian case of canola farmer Percy Schmeiser who was successfully sued by Monsanto for patent violations when his crops were contaminated by Monsanto's transgenic canola. Schmeiser lost his canola crop and had to pay $160,000 in legal fees.

"This opens the very serious question about who will own trees on public or private lands that become contaminated by GE tree pollen, and what will be the legal and financial ramifications for the owners of that land," the groups said.

Proponents of transgenic trees say they offer potential solutions to forestry problems. In a 2004 study, Roger Sedjo of Resources for the Future, says, "Transgenic trees could increase the productivity of industrial wood, and benefit the environment by taking the pressure off of old-growth and natural forests."

Sedjo says other benefits include restoration of certain diseased or damaged tree species, as well as toxic cleanup and bioremediation, by creating trees to remove heavy metals and other toxics from contaminated soils in places where other forms of cleanup are too expensive.

"Just as in agriculture, biotechnology and transgenics are controversial topics in forestry," Sedjo acknowledges.

There are many aspects to the controversy, as today's comments of the conservation groups indicate.

"In addition to GE trees threatening Pennsylvania's native forests, GE apple trees, being researched in nearby Cornell University, threaten the millions of conventional and organic apple trees in production in Pennsylvania," said Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club.

"GE contamination could lead to economic disaster for Pennsylvania's apple growers in much the same way that GE papaya in Hawaii has wiped out many conventional and organic papaya farmers there. The only solution is to ban the release of GE trees into the environment," Carman said.

"While the genetic engineering PR spin doctors are cranking out propaganda about how GE trees will solve our problems, the fact is GE trees will cause massive new problems, some of which we can't possibly foresee," said Orin Langelle, coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign, an alliance of 13 organizations from the U.S. and Canada committed to banning transgenic trees.

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Philadelphia Uses Aerial Spray Against West Nile Virus

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - Aerial pesticide spraying to control large populations of mosquito larvae was conducted in Philadelphia on Monday in areas where sampling has shown increased levels of mosquito populations that could carry West Nile virus. The areas treated are near wastewater facilities.

State Department of Environmental Protection Regional Director Joseph Feola said, “The target areas are large mosquito production habitats for the species that potentially can carry West Nile virus. We think we can do a better job of eliminating mosquito larvae through aerial applications than through traditional application methods on the ground.”

Helicopter Applicators Inc. of Gettysburg sprayed the granular larvacide VectoLex CG over wetlands in and around the biosolid and wastewater treatment plants operated by Philadelphia near Penrose Ferry Road in the southwest portion of the city.

Later in the morning, the applicator sprayed wetlands at the city’s northeast wastewater treatment plant, located near the Betsy Ross Bridge.

VectoLex CG is not a chemical pesticide. It is a species-specific bacterial agent that targets mosquito larvae when added to the water in production areas.

Certain species of mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, which, when transmitted to people, can cause West Nile encephalitis, an infection that can result in an inflammation of the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all residents of areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting West Nile encephalitis. People over 50 have the highest risk of severe disease.

Last year, 15 cases of human West Nile virus were detected in Pennsylvania, resulting in two deaths.

The Department of Environmental Protection advises every householder eliminate mosquito friendly areas. Here are some tips:

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