AmeriScan: June 27, 2005

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Fires Across the West Consume 350,000 Acres

ST. GEORGE, Utah, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - Firefighters have fought to a standstill a blaze touched off by lightning that has burned more than 68,000 acres west of St. George in southwest Utah.

The fire was started Saturday, and at one point it engulfed Interstate 15, forcing state officials to close the highway, the main road between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

The highway was reopened Sunday morning but then was closed again while crews burned a 10 mile swath of land next to the road as a fire break.

Firefighters got a break from the weather today as the strong winds forecast did not occur. Known as the Westside Complex, the fire 15 miles west of St. George forced the evacuation of the town of Gunock, but the evacuation order was lifted at 8 pm Sunday and residents returned home.

Highway 91 and Gunlock Road will remain closed until the fire is contained, which is now expected to be Tuesday, fire officials said.

Firefighters will work late into the night on the fire’s east flank, where most of the activity was today. Although the fire spread very little today, an accurate mapping flight showed the fire has burned 68,200 acres.

About 40 miles to the north near the small town of Pintura, the Blue Springs Fire also forced the closure of I-15 on Saturday and the evacuation of eight homes. The fire has burned more than 8,000 acres. Firefighters were able to protect a ranch house north of Pintura from advancing flames, but three small outbuildings were burned. None of the homes in Pintura were damaged.

The fire has burned to within five miles of New Harmony on the north and within one mile of several homes in Silver Reef. Structure protection engines are in place, although no homes in these communities are immediately threatened. A specialized Incident Management Team will assume management of the fire tomorrow, the National Interagency Fire Management Center said..

In the Virgin Mountains of Arizona, more favorable weather also helped firefighters limit the spread of the 19,000 acre Mt Bangs Complex. A specialized Incident Management Team will assume management of the fire tomorrow as well.

Elsewhere, firefighters struggled to extinguish blazes in California, Nevada, Alaska and Washington state that have charred more than 350,000 acres.

In southern California, firefighters have got several fires under control in the Mojave National Preserve, which includes historic mines and sites with ancient Indian pictographs.

Started by lightning, the fires have burned 70,638 acres and are 95 percent contained. Fire managers are predicting full containment by the end of today. Sunday, there were 1,122 firefighters assigned to the fire, but some are being released today, National Park Service officials said.

The flames destroyed five homes and two cabins in Round Valley built in the late 1800s, and threatened several dozen other homes. Evacuations in the Round Valley, Fourth of July Canyon, and Cedar Canyon areas remain in place. Fire managers are evaluating conditions today to decide when residents can return.

In Nevada, firefighters struggled all last week to contain multiple fires touched off by lightning. Now called the Southern Nevada Complex, these fires have consumed 228,851 acres and are just six percent contained. This complex is located near Mesquite in grass, pinyon, and juniper. Historic structures in Elgen, Caliente municipal watershed, a railroad, and wildlife habitat are threatened.

In this complex of 12 fires, four - the Duzak, Meadow Valley, Halfway and Tramp fires are active - exhibiting extreme fire behavior.

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Court Strikes Down Weakened Power Plant Emissions Control

WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - A federal appeals court Friday struck down provisions of a 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that weakened air pollution control requirements for thousands of coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and factories.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit also rejected a central argument that industry defendants have used in ongoing Clean Air Act enforcement suits.

The EPA rule rejected by the court would have allowed facility owners to avoid installing air pollution control equipment when undertaking plant construction that increases emissions that contribute to soot, smog, and acid rain.

The decision concerns the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program. It came in response to a 2003 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), theAmerican Lung Association, Environmental Defense, Sierra Club and nine other environmental groups, 14 states and the District of Columbia, and 26 cities and towns in Connecticut. The environmental groups were represented by Earthjustice, the Clean Air Task Force and the NRDC.

"Today's ruling sends a clear message to EPA and the Bush administration," said Howard Fox, an Earthjustice attorney. "Clean up our nation's air and do not sacrifice our health and our natural resources for corporate convenience."

The court found that the EPA adopted its regulation "based on incomplete data and thus cannot reasonably quantify the . . . rule's impact on public health."

"The polluter-friendly loopholes that the court struck down today would have led to more asthma attacks, more hospitalizations, and more sick days," said David McIntosh, an NRDC attorney. "The elimination of these rollbacks means that we all will be able to breathe a little more easily."

The court also upheld certain parts of the 2002 rule, including a provision that allows facilities to increase pollution and avoid installing control equipment as long as emissions do not exceed the highest levels from the preceding decade.

The court warned the EPA to ensure that the surviving portions of the rule will not "result in increased emissions that harm quality and public health."

"EPA cannot possibly show that the rules upheld today will not harm air quality," said McIntosh. "Administrator [Stephen] Johnson should put an end to the Bush administration's campaign to weaken Americans' clean air protections."

The court rejected industry's claim that only increases in the capacity of facilities to pollute, rather than increases in actual pollution, trigger cleanup requirements under the Clean Air Act.

In two new source review enforcement suits, utility industry defendants had convinced trial courts to adopt the more permissive, capacity-based test. But with this ruling, the federal appeals court that speaks with the greatest authority to interpret the Clean Air Act has ruled the capacity-based test unlawful.

The new source review program was designed to curb air pollution by requiring industrial facilities to install up-to-date pollution controls and conduct air quality reviews whenever they make physical or operational changes that increase air pollution.

Utilities have operated many of the nation's oldest power plants long beyond their expected lifespans by rebuilding them over time. Often, they modified the facilities in ways that increased air pollution, but did not install required pollution control equipment.

Beginning in 1999, state attorneys general, citizen groups and the Clinton administration launched enforcement lawsuits against utility and refinery violators for pollution increases that had resulted in millions of tons of air pollution.

The Bush EPA tried to undermine the enforcement suits and block future actions by changing the rules in 2002 and again in 2003. Friday's ruling addresses the 2002 rule changes.

In a suit filed by environmental groups and state attorneys general, the same court that issued Friday's ruling blocked the 2003 changes, pending a final decision on the rule's lawfulness sometime next year.

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Florida's Babcock Ranch Conservation Fund $3 Million Richer

WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, said Friday that he has secured $3 million that is earmarked for the purchase and preservation of the Babcock Ranch property located in Florida's Charlotte and Lee counties. The funds have been included in the Senate’s fiscal year 2006 Department of Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill.

"This is a great first step in securing federal funding for one of the most ecologically important areas in the region," said Martinez. "This land contributes greatly to the environmental quality of the western Everglades, its inhabitants, and the surrounding ecosystem."

The $3 million earmarked for the Babcock Preservation Partnership will help the state of Florida purchase and preserve the Babcock Ranch property – the state's largest natural water storage tract in private ownership.

But it is a small portion of what is needed to buy the ranch, currently appraised at $450 million.

The 143 square mile Babcock Ranch contains cypress domes, swamps, and mesic flatwoods and wet prairies in a block that straddles the Telegraph Swamp.

The fast-growing population in the vicinity makes the ranch a valuable habitat for species such as Florida panthers and black bears.

Federal and state governments are administering an $8 billion plan to restore the water flow to the Everglades. Babcock Ranch and the waters of the Telegraph Swamp are important to the health of the western Everglades ecosystem, particularly the Caloosahatchee River, making preservation of the Ranch important on a national scale, according to the Babcock Preservation Partnership.

The partnership consists of the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Foundation, Lee County, Charlotte County, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and a host of other public and private agencies and organizations, as well as many private citizens.

s "This area’s value in terms of water supply and storage, habitat for native species, and outdoor recreational opportunities cannot be overstated," said Martinez. "Generations of Floridians have preserved these lands and I am working to preserve these lands for many more."

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Congress Funds Turtle, Antelope Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is awarding a total of $89,610 in grants to assist in the conservation of international marine turtles.

"Sea turtles are an ancient species, valuable for economic, cultural and aesthetic many reasons," said Acting Service Director Matt Hogan, announcing the funding on Thursday. "Thanks to Congress, the Service can tap into funds set aside for marine turtle conservation to lend a hand in the important global conservation work now underway to restore these species to health."

The international marine turtle grants were made possible by the U.S. Congress's passage of the Marine Turtle Conservation Act of 2004, which established a fund within the Multinational Species Conservation Fund to assist other countries' marine turtle conservation efforts.

In FY04, Congress appropriated $100,000 including administrative costs. In addition to these appropriated funds, the Service has leveraged an additional $182,600 in support of sea turtle conservation from nongovernmental organizations, private businesses, and other government agencies involved in marine turtle conservation.

Once abundant throughout the world, today almost all marine turtle populations have suffered declines due to habitat degradation, commercial exploitation, and unsustainable trade - putting their future survival in the wild at risk.

The Service is awarding a total of $23,400 in grants to assist Russian efforts to conserve the endangered saiga antelope. Native to Russia, the saiga population has decreased by 95 percent in the last 20 years.

The funds, administered by the Service's Division of International Conservation, will support three saiga conservation initiatives under the Division's Wildlife Without Borders-Russia program. The grant awards will support projects to equip rangers of Chernye Zemli Nature Reserve with radio units and field gear. The money will be used to erect border signs around Chernye Zemli Reserve to warn trespassers and enhance saiga anti-poaching efforts.

In addition, the funds will support construction of a visitor center in Kalmykia where people can learn about saiga antelope to foster greater involvement of local communities in conservation efforts.

Throughout its range across southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia, the saiga is poached for its horns, which are illegally processed as aphrodisiacs for the Asian medicinal trade. In addition, local people consume saiga meat. Because the horned males are selectively targeted for exploitation, scientists believe the resulting highly distorted sex ratio of surviving antelopes is worsening the population decline.

"These grants provide timely, on-the-ground assistance from the United States, contributing to a global conservation partnership working to ensure a healthy future for wild saigas," said Hogan. "We need to do everything we can toward reversing the dramatic decline of this unique species."

Funding for the conservation of other animals is before Congress this week. Marshall Jones, Service deputy director, today testified before Congress on behalf of the reauthorization of the Great Apes Conservation Act and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Improvement Act.

These Acts are part of the Multinational Species Conservation Fund which also provides support for Asian elephant, African elephant, tiger, and rhinoceros conservation programs, allowing overseas wildlife researchers and managers to be more effective in protecting their countries' wildlife and habitat resources.

Although relatively modest, the funds support on-the-ground conservation efforts and can be used to leverage additional resources from other partners.

For more information on the different conservation funds the Service administers, visit: http://www.international.fws.gov.

s For information on how to apply for international marine turtle conservation assistance, log on to: http://international.fws.gov/animals/marineturtleprogram.htm.

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Songbird Reappears at San Joaquin River After 60 Years

MODESTO, California, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - A musical little songbird not heard in California's Central Valley for 65 years was found this month on the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge west of Modesto.

The least Bell's vireo, Vireo bellii pusillus, was federally listed as endangered in 1986 when only 300 pairs were left, all along small streams in Southern California.

Some males have up to 15 different songs that finish with a distinctive, "cheedle, jeew." That song was heard by bird counter Lynette Lina along the banks of the San Joaquin River. She verified it with other bird monitors, and on June 7, they were able to record the birds to confirm the species.

The sighting of a nesting pair of least Bell's vireo has now occurred on the refuge, a unit of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex that was restored under the CALFED program.

CALFED is a multi-million joint state-federal water program designed to address water supply, water quality and ecosystem restoration issues in the San Francisco Bay-Delta system.

Recovery of the least Bell's vireo is the outcome of a broad partnership involving at least nine different organizations. CALFED began the effort in 1998 when it provided key funds to purchase an 800 acre farm.

vireo

The least Bell's vireo was listed as a state endangered species by the California Fish and Game Commission in 1980, and as a federally endangered species in 1986. (Photo courtesy FNCC)
Many other agencies contributed such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sacramento office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Resources Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Audubon Society.

"Hearing the least Bell's vireo again demonstrates that a good recovery plan, committed partners and resources to carry it out, can bring many species back to life in areas where they seemed lost forever," said Steve Thompson, manager of the California-Nevada Operations Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wildlife refuges can play a major role in the survival and recovery of species. Thompson points out that the Aleutian Canada goose recovered from the brink of extinction after it began wintering at the same San Joaquin River refuge.

The least Bell's vireo once was common from Red Bluff south throughout the Central Valley and farther south into Baja California, where they migrate for the winter. But the removal of 90 percent of the riparian habitat resulted in their steep decline.

The last time least Bell's vireo breeding was confirmed in the valley was 1919. By the 1940s birders could no longer hear them in the valley. Exhaustive searches for the bird in the 1970s and 1980s also came up empty-handed, and biologists concluded that the bird no longer nested in the valley.

Three years ago, CALFED provided funds to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge to restore a 164 acre section along the San Joaquin River.

In the three years since restoration began, the former farm field has grown into a tangle similar to the original valley riverside habitat with willows, blackberry, wild rose and other native plants, some now 30 feet high.

The hands-on restoration work was conducted by three conservation partners - River Partners, the Endangered Species Restoration Program at California State University-Stanislaus and PRBO Conservation Science.

Founded in 1965 as Point Reyes Bird Observatory, PRBO Conservation Science partners with governments, nongovernmental agencies and private interests to ensure conservation funding yields the most for biodiversity.

Geoff Geupel of PRBO said the least Bell's vireo's return "is a success for CALFED's adaptive management approach to habitat restoration."

Each year the three partners made refinements to improve the quality of habitat being developed for native bird and animal species. Learning from earlier restoration efforts, they planted more shrubby understory and created a varied pattern of planting that mimics the natural floodplain habitat.

The least Bell's vireos soon found the area, although bird watchers say it has been at least 85 years since they nested in the Central Valley.

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New Jersey Sets Pollution Limits for 155 Miles of Waterways

TRENTON, New Jersey, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey is proposing new pollution limits for phosphorus and fecal coliform that cause water quality impairments in more than 155 miles of waterways across the state.

"This is one more tough action that continues New Jersey's commitment to safeguard water resources for residents and future generations," said Acting Governor Richard Codey. "Identifying sources and reducing pollutants is an important step in ensuring New Jersey has safe and healthy water for drinking, and recreational activities."

The 155 miles of waterways to be controlled are located in five watershed regions - Atlantic Coastal, Lower Delaware, Northeast, Northwest and Raritan.

"Phosphorus and fecal coliform are pollutants that degrade our water quality, and our ability to enjoy natural treasures like Swartswood Lake," said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

Swartswood Lake is contaminated with an excess of phsphorus, a nutrient from agricultural runoff that stimulates algae blooms. The new pollution limts will are aimed at reducing and eliminating sources of phosphorus in three waterways entering Swartswood Lake, a Category One waterbody.

"The pollutant and its sources will be identified and eliminated to restore New Jersey's impaired waterbodies to safe and healthy waters that serve as sanctuaries for wildlife and offer swimming, fishing and boating opportunities," said Campbell.

The program sets Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, limits that are developed for those waters that do not currently meet federal water quality standards.

In developing a TMDL, the Department of Environmental Protection identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can contain and still meet New Jersey's water quality standards.

The agency assesses the existing pollutant load in the stream and identifies sources of that pollutant. The agency then establishes the reduction in pollution load for each source that is necessary to restore water quality to comply with state standards. Finally, the DEP develops an implementation plan to achieve those reductions.

New Jersey is now proposing total maximum daily loads for 23 waterways aimed at reducing fecal coliform and phosphorus. Water quality will be restored with strict requirements for fecal coliform pollution reductions of 21 to 98 percent and phosphorus reductions of 50 to 53 percent.

The DEP will achieve the targeted reductions by addressing the sources for fecal coliform and phosphorus including failing septic systems.

The impairment for 20 of the TMDLs is fecal coliform in the form of human and animal wastes. Sewage treatment facilities are potential sources of fecal coliform when equipment failure or operational problems result in the discharge of untreated sewage.

DEP has adopted 230 TMDLs during the last two years. In 2004, 27 TMDLs were successfully completed and in 2003, 203 TMDLs were completed statewide.

DEP published all 23 proposed TMDLs in the May 2005 New Jersey Register. The public comment period closes June 30.

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Kyocera Generates Power With Grove of Solar Trees

SAN DIEGO, California, June 27, 2005 (ENS) - On Friday, the solar equipment company Kyocera dedicated its first Solar Grove - an array of 25 "solar trees" that converts a 186 vehicle parking lot into a 235-kilowatt solar electric generating system.

The Solar Grove, located at the company's North American headquarters in San Diego will serve "as a symbol of Kyocera's goal to make the San Diego/Tijuana region an important hub in North America's solar energy industry," the company said.

Solar trees mimic the life process of natural trees by converting sunlight into energy without adding carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere - while providing structures that are both shade-producing and aesthetically pleasing.

The system's 25 solar trees form a carport in an employee parking lot, utilizing a total of 1,400 Kyocera solar photovoltaic (PV) modules and 200 custom-manufactured, light-filtering PV modules.

The system's capacity of 235 kilowatts - capable of generating 421,000 kilowatt hours per year - will be equivalent to the electrical needs of 68 typical San Diego homes, the company says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Power Profiler shows that generating this amount of electricity through burning fossil fuels would annually release 338,905 pounds of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming; 421 pounds of nitrous oxide, which has been linked to the destruction of the Earth's ozone layer; and 253 pounds of sulfur dioxide, the principal contributor to acid rain.

The California Public Utilities Commission's Self Generation Incentive Program will cover 36 percent of the system's purchase and installation costs. The company also benefits from federal and state tax credits, and a five-year accelerated depreciation schedule.

The standard Kyocera solar modules used in the Solar Grove are covered by a 25 year manufacturer's warranty, and Kyocera anticipates that the Solar Grove will pay for itself within 12 years.

"The economic viability of PV systems and their positive impact on our environment represent a significant opportunity for businesses throughout California," said Steve Hill, president of Kyocera Solar, Inc. "By installing this very attractive system on a Kyocera facility, we are setting a new benchmark for commercial PV installations, and leading San Diego into the solar age."

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