AmeriScan: March 7, 2002
ARMY CORPS SECRETARY STEPS DOWN
WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - Michael Parker has resigned as assistant secretary of the Army of the Office of Civil Works after disagreeing with the Bush administration over the president's budget request for the Corps.
The White House said today that Parker's resignation was his own decision, though some sources have characterized his departure as being fired by President George W. Bush.
Asked whether the president believed it was a good idea for Parker to "step down," White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that while President Bush "welcomes a diversity of views in his administration," he "does think it's appropriate for his staff to support the administration's policy."
"The President welcomes a healthy debate," on budget issues, Fleischer added. "But there's also a matter of once the debate is settled and the President has proposed a budget, the President does think it's reasonable for the people who work for him to support the budget."
Conservation groups were glad to see Parker go.
Maria Weidner, policy advocate for Earthjustice's White House Watch program noted that Earthjustice "had concerns of our own with respect to Parker's lackluster environmental record," and expressed hope that the Bush administration "takes this opportunity to fill the position with someone committed to carrying out the agency's environmental mission."
"We hope the next person to fill this vital environmental role will be someone unlike Parker, who viewed the agency's environmental mission as one of trying to change Clean Water Act rules to allow the coal industry to permanently bury waters of the United States under tons of industrial waste," Weidner said.
Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, said the conservation community "welcomes the news" of Parker's departure.
"In his short tenure, Parker not only lead the most significant rollback of wetlands protection in recent history, he also displayed the same attitude that the Corps of Engineers has shown for years: that the agency is entitled to generous helpings of the public's tax dollars, regardless of the merits or environmental consequences of its projects," Wodder said.
Parker was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works in October 2001. He served as a U.S. Representative from Mississippi from 1989 to 1999.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION ASSAULTS ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS
WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - The Bush administration has declared war on environmental protections, charged the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee today.
Warning that the administration is now weakening long established public health and public lands safeguards, the environmental advocacy group presented the Government Affairs Committee with copies of its new report, "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Unseen Assault on the Environment."
"The Bush administration is quietly subverting federal agency rules in ways that will mean more pollution, greater health risks, and a reduced quality of life for all Americans," said Gregory Wetstone, NRDC's director of advocacy. "This regulatory assault is the most serious threat ever to America's landmark environmental protection programs."
The NRDC documents scores of anti-environmental actions by the Bush administration, many of which were put in place after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The more than 80 administrative actions highlighted in the report span the spectrum of the nation's most important environmental programs, including those protecting clean air, water, forests, wildlife and public lands.
The report details all post September 11 anti-environment actions, and also lists all environmental assaults since the administration took office in January 2001.
Among the actions documented by the NRDC report:
The report also sheds light on other damaging tactics that are far less visible than regulatory rollbacks. The failure to assure funding for vital environmental programs is one important example, NRDC testified.
Opting not to enforce environmental requirements and refusing to defend environmental requirements in court represent other stealth approaches. The administration also has made extensive use of technical agency guidance, rather than changes in formal rules, to avoid an open public process when backing away from high profile environmental programs.
The reports reveals efforts by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to weaken environmental safeguards by adding new procedural hurdles which benefit industry at the expense of public health.
The report is available at: http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY COULD ENHANCE NATIONAL SECURITY
AUSTIN, Texas, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - Increasing use of alternatives energy sources could make the nation's electricity grid less vulnerable to future terror attacks, suggests a new report released today by Environmental Defense.
The report, "Safe and Secure: Meeting America's Electricity Needs," demonstrates that an American economy powered by distributed renewable energy and linked with increased efficiency investments and cogeneration, would be cleaner and safer than the current emphasis on fossil fuels and nuclear power.
"Affordable technology exists for a new American energy economy that can deliver real cuts in oil consumption and greenhouse gas pollution, while at the same time making the nation's power supply more secure from terrorist attacks," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Jim Marston. "The sunlight, wind and falling water that power renewable energy cannot be eliminated, and renewable energy is not powered by explosive, flammable or radioactive fuels which are vulnerable to attack."
The report calls for:
"Earth is already beginning to show the effects of global climate change, and responsible nations are taking action," said Steve Cochran, Environmental Defense's director of strategic communications.
"As the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas pollution, it's well past time for the United States to join the broad based international coalition against global warming," added Cochran. "Because the science on this issue is clear, the administration and Congress should work together on a clean energy package that protects America's national security, environmental security and economic security."
EPA EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR EMISSIONS STANDARDS
WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given itself an extension on requirements to set emissions standards for industrial facilities.
In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act, requiring EPA to set standards for every category of industrial facility that emits major amounts of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) - 10 tons per year of any single HAP or 25 tons per year of any combination. Although the Act gave EPA 10 years, from 1990 until 2000, to do so, the agency has done only half the job. Hundreds of major sources in more than 80 categories remain uncontrolled.
Frustrated by the habitual disregard by EPA's air program for statutory deadlines, Congress also enacted a backstop provision known as the "hammer." The hammer provides that if the EPA misses a statutory deadline for hazardous air pollutant regulations by more than 18 months, industrial facilities and state agencies must pick up the slack.
In practice, this means that each facility in each industrial category for which EPA's emissions standards are overdue must apply for a state permit. State agencies must then set emissions standards equivalent to those the agency should have set, on a case by case basis.
Any facility that continues operating without having submitted a complete application for a hammer permit by the deadline is in violation of the Clean Air Act and subject to enforcement actions. Because the EPA's regulations were due by November 15, 2000, the hammer deadline is May 14, 2002.
Unwilling to act by that date, EPA extended the deadline by two years.
"Contrary to the Clean Air Act, the Bush administration has delayed the date by which toxic air pollution will be cleaned up at many facilities," said Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. "With this delay, more Americans will breathe toxic air pollution for a longer period of time."
Conservation groups say the agency's action will prolong and increase the public's exposure to hazardous air pollutants - chemicals such as dioxins, mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that, even in minute quantities, can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders and other devastating diseases.
"This extension hurts all Americans and rewards the Bush administration's industrial backers," said Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra Club's air committee. "Here in Ohio, you can see, smell and taste the air pollution in many neighborhoods - and the people in those neighborhoods are not happy or healthy. But every year that the polluters don't have to clean up is money in their pockets."
EPA REGION 8 ADMINISTRATOR APPOINTED
DENVER, Colorado, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - Robert Roberts, executive director of the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) for the past seven years, has been appointed as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Region 8.
Region 8 covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
Roberts was the first executive director of ECOS, a national, non-partisan, nonprofit association established as a clearing house of information for state and territorial environment commissioners, and to articulate state positions to the Congress, federal agencies and the public.
"Robbie Roberts has a broad background and demonstrated leadership in dealing with environmental matters at the state and local level. He will bring to EPA's western regional operation a clear understanding of government, policy and the importance of teamwork in getting things done," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "I look forward to working with him as we move forward in our efforts to make the air cleaner, the water purer and the land better protected."
From 1990 to 1995, Roberts was secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in South Dakota. In that position, he served on two national EPA advisory groups dealing with the impact of environmental programs on small towns and local government.
He is a member of the National Environmental Policy Commission, established by the Congressional Black Caucus in 2001 to address environmental justice, public health and economic development issues.
Roberts was an Air Force officer from 1967 to 1990, retiring with the rank of colonel, after serving as base commander for the largest operational base in the Strategic Air Command.
CIRCUS POLAR BEAR RELOCATED TO BALTIMORE ZOO
BALTMORE, Maryland, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - A female polar bear confiscated from the Suarez Brothers Circus, performing in Puerto Rico, will be making her new home at the Baltimore Zoo.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) confiscated the bear as a result of an investigation into improper permitting procedures. USFWS found that this female bear was listed on an illegal permit when brought into Puerto Rico by the circus.
"We have been looking for a companion for our polar Magnet," said Baltimore Zoo director Roger Birkel. "When we were notified that this bear may be confiscated, and that we were first identified by AZA's [The American Zoo and Aquarium Association] management plan, we accepted immediately."
AZA's Bear Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) was asked to find an appropriate facility to house the bear upon confiscation. The group determined that the Baltimore Zoo's male bear was the best genetic match for the confiscated female.
"We are confident that The Baltimore Zoo will provide good care, a proper diet and quality enrichment for this bear," said Diana Weinhardt, Bear TAG chair.
The female bear will be quarantined for at least 30 days before she makes her Baltimore debut.
"We will need to thoroughly evaluate her health and make sure she has her immunizations up to date before she can be brought out for public viewing," Birkel noted. "This is the normal protocol we follow whenever a new animal is brought to the zoo."
There are six polar bears remaining in the circus in Puerto Rico. They have been the topic of a recent animal cruelty trial and numerous action alerts by animal welfare groups that, since June 2001, have been asking that all the bears be removed from the circus and placed in accredited zoos.
The circus has maintained the Arctic animals in tropical heat at times reaching 112 degrees, often without air conditioning or access to pools of cold water, and confined to transport vehicles for extended periods of time, in one instance for 55 hours. Last August, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources filed animal cruelty charges against the circus for keeping the bears in filthy cages without relief from extreme heat.
"It is great news that one of the polar bears has been rescued, but there are six others that are still languishing in extreme heat and other conditions unsuitable for polar bears," said Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for The Humane Society of The United States.
"There are many legal questions that still need answers, some of which involve alleged criminal activity by the Circus," added Rose. "We urge U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials to prosecute the circus for its criminal violation of falsifying information to obtain permits for this polar bear, and to thoroughly investigate several other citations issued to the Circus since they obtained their import permit last spring."
171 ACRES ON MOUNT SI PROTECTED
SEATTLE, Washington, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - A parcel of private land surrounded by a conservation reserve on Washington's Mount Si has been protected through a public private partnership.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) helped protect 171 acres along the southeast side of Mount Si. Its acquisition ensures permanent protection of a popular outdoor recreation site and preservation of important contiguous habitat and wildlife corridors.
Last week, TPL purchased the private property and conveyed ownership to DNR for permanent stewardship. DNR's funding for the acquisition came from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program administered by the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.
The property was one of the few remaining in holdings of private land within the 8,700 acre Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA). The parcel will become part of the NRCA, protecting its scenic landscape and providing public access to a viewpoint and trailhead.
"This is just one more example of how the people and organizations in this area have been terrific partners in helping to protect valuable habitat corridors and recreation opportunities, to put land into its best use," said Washington commissioner of public lands Doug Sutherland. "Partnerships that come together to focus their energies can accomplish so much for the public."
In 1987, Mount Si became one of the first four designated NRCAs in Washington State. Mount Si NRCA was established to protect a fragile ecosystem with scenic resources, wildflower communities, recreational opportunities and habitat for native mountain goats, elk, bear, cougar and the then endangered peregrine falcon.
"I am very pleased that TPL was able to help protect this substantial inholding in the Mount Si NRCA. Its permanent conservation ensures that the mountain's natural resource and important open space for the community will forever remain intact," said TPL project manager Rinee Merritt.
The parcel is considered an important addition to the Mountains to Sound Greenway, which follows Washington's Interstate 90 from the shores of the Puget Sound into the Kittitas Valley.
For more than a decade, DNR and TPL have partnered with other state, federal and local agencies and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to protect the lands that complete the linkage of trails, recreation areas, forest lands, open space and wildlife habitat. In 2001, TPL helped protect 4,716 acres in the Greenway with a fair market value of more than $20 million.
MANATEES USE HAIRS AS UNDERWATER ANTENNAE
GAINESVILLE, Florida, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - Manatees use small hairs on their body as tiny antennas that pick up information about water currents, nearby landscape and the presence of other animals, say researchers from the University of Florida (UF).
In a paper accepted last month at the journal "Brain, Behavior and Evolution," the researchers argue that manatees use small hairs on their body as an "underwater distance tactile system," such as that found in fish. Fish monitor underwater surroundings through sensory pores set along their bodies in twin lateral lines.
The UF study represents the first time such a system has been documented in mammals, the scientists say.
"In the underwater environment, if you don't have echolocation, and most of the time you're in a situation here the water is not all that clear, then another option is to use the tactile sense," said Roger Reep, the paper's lead author and UF associate professor of physiological sciences. "Fish use their lateral line to detect movement and objects in the environment, and we're arguing that manatees are doing something similar with tactile hairs."
Florida residents spend most or their lives in water stained by tannins or clouded with sediment, said Chris Marshall, who did his doctoral research at the University of Florida. Researchers have long puzzled over how manatees, which have poor vision, find their way in these conditions, said Marshall, now an assistant professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University.
In research beginning a decade ago, the UF scientists focused first on manatees' unusual facial hairs, known as vibrissae. That research, which has appeared in "Marine Mammal Science" and other journals, showed that manatees use the vibrissae both as tools to grasp plants to eat and as sensory organs.
Although only the long hairs near their mouths are used for grasping, the sensory hairs are distributed all over their faces, which is unusual for mammals, Reep said.
"If you look at cats and dogs and most other mammals, their whiskers are largely limited to what you might call the moustache area," Reep said. "Manatees have these hairs on nine distinct regions of their faces."
The scientists examined the anatomy surrounding individual hairs by dissecting carcasses of manatees that had been killed in boat collisions. The scientists found that each hair on the body is a tactile hair, with a specialized follicle and dense nerve connections.
If these are anything like tactile hairs in other animals, they are surrounded by motion detectors called mechanoreceptors, with nerves connecting to the brain, the researchers said.
"When a hair is deflected, the mechanoreceptors on that side get squeezed, and they send a signal through network of nerves to the brain," said Marshall. "So it's a really an integral part of the sensory system of the animal."
Marshall said the animals' antenna system does not help them avoid collisions with boats - the number one killer of the endangered mammals - because it reacts only to the environment near the animal, meaning if boats are traveling too fast, the animals will receive the information too late to respond.
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