AmeriScan: March 27, 2002
Campaign Reform Bill Becomes Law
Campaign Reform Bill Becomes LawWASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has signed sweeping campaign finance reform legislation that will go into effect this November.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (HR 2356) will bar individuals, corporations and unions from contributing unlimited sums to national political parties. In the 2000 elections, such soft money donations reached a record of almost $500 million.
Conservation groups say the legislation will stem the flow of money spent by polluting corporations seeking to influence policymakers and blunt the effects of environmental laws.
"I believe that this legislation, although far from perfect, will improve the current financing system for federal campaigns," said President Bush in signing the bill. The legislation "will go a long way toward fixing some of the most pressing problems in campaign finance today," Bush added, resulting in "an election finance system that encourages greater individual participation, and provides the public more accurate and timely information, than does the present system."
The bill bars unions and corporations from making massive, unregulated contributions to candidates or political parties. The law will raise limits on giving by individuals to $2,000 per candidate and $10,000 per election cycle.
The legislation also creates new disclosure requirements and compels speedier compliance with existing ones, "which will promote the free and swift flow of information to the public regarding the activities of groups and individuals in the political process," Bush said.
"However, the bill does have flaws," the president added. "In particular, HR 2356 goes farther than I originally proposed by preventing all individuals, not just unions and corporations, from making donations to political parties in connection with federal elections."
"When individual freedoms are restricted, questions arise under the First Amendment," Bush noted, alluding to pledges by Congress members who say they will challenge the constitutionality of the new law in court.
Abandoned Mine Getting $87 Million CleanupBUTTE, Montana, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - A settlement between mining companies, the state of Montana and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will clean up acidic mine drainage at the Berkeley Pit, the nation's largest body of contaminated water.
Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and five other mining companies will pay some $87 million to control billions of gallons of acidic drainage that is contaminating the pit and threatening nearby waterways, as well as the drinking water supply for the city of Butte.
The mine drainage in the Berkeley Pit is acidic and laden with arsenic and heavy metals such as aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, zinc and sulfate. These toxins led to the 1995 deaths of 342 snow geese, who mistook the contaminated water for a safe migratory drinking stop.
The Berkeley Pit site covers about 23 square miles near downtown Butte. Surrounding the Berkeley Pit are more than 3,500 miles of underground mine workings that were operated by several separate mines since 1865.
Until 1982, the mine workings were drained by ARCO and its predecessors through a massive underground pumping system to allow mining to continue in the pit and the other underground mines.
In 1982, ARCO decided to cease mine operations and shut off the drainage pumps. Groundwater in the area then started rising back to levels that existed before the mining began.
As the groundwater level rose, the Berkeley Pit filled with acid mine drainage from the pit walls, the network of underground mines, waste rock dumps and leach pads in the area.
"What was once a regulated mining and de-watering operation has now become a Superfund Site with the largest body of contaminated water in the United States," said John Cruden, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division.
The Berkeley Pit is part of the Silver Bow Creek/Butte area Superfund site located in the Clark Fork Basin in southwestern Montana. The EPA estimates that the total costs of cleanup and control at the pit alone could reach $110 million.
ARCO has been implementing the EPA's cleanup plan for the Berkeley Pit for the past five years under a prior order from the agency. The other defendants, including ASARCO, AR Montana Corporation, Dennis Washington, Montana Resources and Montana Resources, Inc., are reportedly contributing to the cost of this work under terms not disclosed to the government.
Under the new agreement, the defendants will pump and treat the pit's acidic mine water, which now amounts to more than 30 billion gallons, to maintain the water below a critical level. Without these actions, contaminated water would flow into Silver Bow Creek and area groundwater.
The defendants will also reimburse about $3.25 million of the costs the EPA has incurred so far at the site, and make an advance payment of $5.723 million to cover future costs of monitoring the cleanup. Since the cleanup plan is expected to take decades, the settlement contains financial assurances and guarantees from the defendants that they will be able to continue to finance the cleanup in the future.
"This settlement is a big step in healing the scars from over a century of extensive mining in Butte, and it will go a long way to protecting human health and the environment in the area," said Cruden.
New York City in Drought EmergencyNEW YORK, New York, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - New York City is facing a drought emergency, with mandatory restrictions on water use affecting more than eight million city residents as well as residents of four upstate counties.
Citing the critical lack of rainfall over the city's three reservoir systems, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a Stage 1 Drought Emergency on Tuesday for the city and about one million city water users in Westchester, Putnam, Ulster and Orange counties. Water use restrictions go into effect on Monday, April 1.
"Our city is in the midst of the worst drought it has experienced in a decade," said Bloomberg. "Six months of unusually dry weather have left upstate reservoirs only half full at a time of year when they are normally at 90 percent of capacity. I am declaring a Stage 1 Drought Emergency at this time because it is highly unlikely that we'll get enough rainfall to replenish our reservoirs before the heavy summertime demand for water begins."
The water supply system consists of three reservoir systems - Croton, Catskill and Delaware - including 19 reservoirs with a collective storage capacity of 558 billion gallons. Due to a lack of rain and snow to replenish these reservoirs, the city has been under a voluntary water conservation strategy since November 2001.
"New Yorkers have heeded our requests for conservation over these past months seriously, and we seen our water use cut by some 30 million gallons a day," said Bloomberg. "However, voluntary conservation alone can't make up for the lack of rain fall, therefore we must take more stringent measures to increase protection of the supply and reduce water use."
A Stage 1 Drought Emergency requires prohibits several water uses, including washing vehicles, sidewalks, driveways and streets. Residents may only water their lawns during restricted dates and times, and golf courses may water only tees and greens.
Ornamental fountains must be turned off. Private swimming pools may be filled during Stage 1 Drought Emergency, but if the city later declares a more severe drought, this will be prohibited.
"New Yorkers enjoy one of the world's best water supply systems. It is pure, reliable and generally speaking, extremely plentiful," Bloomberg noted. "However, under current conditions, we must not take our water for granted. I am asking everyone to play a role until the rains come to our City again. All of us should try to make more efficient use of the water we consume in daily activities."
More tips on saving water are available at: http://www.nyc.gov/dep
Abraham Campaigns for Yucca Mountain Waste RepositoryWASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - A single, secure storage site is the best disposal for the nation's most dangerous radioactive wastes, argued Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in an opinion piece published Tuesday in newspapers around the nation.
Abraham used the piece to counter critics of the proposed high level nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
"Critics of the decision to select Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation's permanent site for nuclear waste are asking us to believe … that the current temporary surface storage system for high level nuclear waste is preferable to the permanent underground solution offered by the Yucca Mountain site," wrote Abraham.
Abraham said the planned repository will protect radioactive wastes from accidents and terrorist attacks better than any of the current above ground storage sites.
"More than 161 million people live within 75 miles of one or more nuclear waste sites, all of which were intended to be temporary," he wrote. "We believe that today these sites are safe, but prudence demands we consolidate this waste from widely dispersed above ground sites into a deep underground location that can be better protected."
After 24 years of study, at a cost of more than $4 billion, "the scientists concluded that Yucca Mountain would be safe," Abraham wrote. "In fact, extensive studies prove the repository will secure this material so well that tough Environmental Protection Agency standards will be met for 10,000 years."
Last month, President George W. Bush gave his approval to the Yucca Mountain site, urging Congress to approve the planned repository.
Critics of the Yucca Mountain project warn that no scientific studies can prove that the repository will remain intact and protect the wastes for the 10,000 years required by the regulations authorizing its construction.
Another major concern is the transportation of high level radioactive waste across the nation by road and rail, which critics warn could prove a tempting terrorist target.
Abraham scoffed at that idea in his opinion piece.
"So far as terrorists are concerned, why wouldn't they first attack stationary, above ground facilities that lie in known locations near heavily populated cities, rather than wait 10 years until the material is being moved - in secret - in secure containers surrounded by heavily armed guards?" he asked.
Abraham added that the wastes will end up being moved regardless of whether the Yucca Mountain site is completed. He pointed out that the Goshute Indian Tribe in Utah, in consortium with a group of electric utilities, "is moving forward on approval of a temporary above ground nuclear waste storage site on its reservation."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hold hearings on the Goshute's proposal beginning April 8 and continuing for more than a month. For a schedule of the meetings, click here.
"Whether or not the Goshutes are successful, sooner or later others will open new sites, and this material will move," Abraham concluded.
Agua Fria National Monument Under AttackWASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - An Arizona Representative has drafted legislation that would threaten one of the last national monuments created by the Clinton administration.
On January 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton protected 71,000 acres along the Agua Fria River between Phoenix and Flagstaff as the Agua Fria National Monument, "the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected," Clinton wrote.
Representative Bob Stump, a Republican, is pushing to remove land from the Agua Fria National Monument, according to a draft of the bill obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The bill would allow for urban sprawl and freeway widening along about 20 miles of a nearby interstate highway, and increase livestock and energy industry threats on the monument, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
"Bob Stump is trying to deal anti-environmental cards under the table to industry and [Arizona Governor Jane] Hull," said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist for the CBD. "Most Arizonans want these monuments protected, but Stump isn't talking to them as he steals our natural heritage out the back door."
In his proclamation, President Clinton declared, "The monument contains one of the most significant systems of late prehistoric sites in the American Southwest."
"This expansive mosaic of semi-desert grassland, cut by ribbons of valuable riparian forest, is an outstanding biological resource," added Clinton. "The diversity of vegetative communities, topographical features, and relative availability of water provide habitat for a wide array of sensitive wildlife species, including the lowland leopard frog, the Mexican garter snake, the common black hawk, and the desert tortoise."
Stump's bill would remove at least 320 acres of BLM lands from the monument, and establish an oversight group to manage the monument, overriding BLM decisions. It would prevent designation of any part of the monument as wilderness, and preclude future expansion of the monument.
New power lines and off road vehicle travel by the energy industry would be permitted under the bill, as would widening the right of way 400 feet beyond current limits along 20 miles of Interstate 17. Livestock developments and grazing would be increased.
"Agua Fria is a national treasure. It protects a free flowing desert river, native wildlife, and hundreds of important cultural sites," said Julie Sherman, the Sierra Club's conservation organizer. "This bill would undermine all the protections currently in place to preserve these natural and cultural values."
Two Biomass Pilot Projects ApprovedCHICAGO, Illinois, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - Switchgrass may soon create energy in Illinois and Oklahoma and promote a cleaner environment, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday.
During a meeting in Chicago with more than 300 area farmers and agribusiness representatives, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the agency has approved two Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) biomass pilot projects for the two states.
"Both projects promote the use of a renewable fuel and a cleaner environment," said Veneman "The grass is easily obtained compared to coal, a fossil fuel. Burning switchgrass instead of coal reduces the amount of coal-related pollutants emitted into the air."
Veneman visited Chicago to meet with farmers and to tour the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
As part of a project called "Converting Illinois CRP Grass Biomass Into Energy," switchgrass will be harvested from a CRP project located in the Illinois River watershed near Havana, Illinois. Biomass from the switchgrass will then be pelletized and used to help fuel traditional coal energy power plants.
In Oklahoma, the "Converting CRP Grasses into Energy Pilot Project" is working with partners to locate markets for agricultural biomass. The project is also studying methods of combining CRP grass pellets with Oklahoma's high sulfur coal to determine if a lower sulfur product can be developed and marketed to power companies.
The grass includes Old World Bluestem and some native grass mixtures grown on CRP acres in a five county area in the Oklahoma panhandle.
Funded by the USDA and operated by the Farm Service Agency, CRP helps farmers and ranchers plant native trees and grasses on private land to improve the health of watersheds and other sensitive areas.
The Illinois and Oklahoma CRP biomass pilot projects join four other CRP biomass pilot projects approved on March 21, 2001. The prior projects include developing warm and cool season grasses as a source of renewable energy in Iowa, growing of hybrid poplar trees on CRP to be used for biomass energy in Minnesota, growing willow biomass crops in New York, and producing switchgrass for sale to a local cooperative's coal fired fluid bed combuster that is used for burning alternative fuels in Pennsylvania.
Industry Representative to Head Agriculture's Conservation OfficeGRABILL, Indiana, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - Bruce Knight, the vice president for public policy at the National Corn Growers Association, has been named as chief of the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The 11,000 person NRCS has a budget of $1.1 billion to help landowners take voluntary steps to protect the nation's soil and water resources on private land. The agency works in partnership with an array of state and local groups to help enhance environmental quality.
"Bruce Knight brings to USDA a great deal of knowledge and first hand experience in conservation and agriculture policy from having served as a congressional staff member, a public policy leader for a national trade association and a working farmer and rancher," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "I know that he will use that knowledge and experience in administering important conservation programs for USDA."
Knight now works in the National Corn Growers Association's (NCGA) Washington DC office. The NCGA is a producer directed trade association representing U.S. corn growers. Knight has also worked for the National Association of Wheat Growers.
Knight has served on the staffs of three Republican members of Congress. He helped develop the conservation title of the 1996 Farm Bill while working for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. He was a legislative assistant to Representative Fred Grandy of Iowa, and Senator James Abdnor of South Dakota.
A native of Gann Valley, South Dakota, Knight has been a farmer and rancher since 1976 for a 1,500 acre diversified grain and cattle operation using no till and rest rotation grazing systems.
Corps of Engineers, United Nations to Cooperate on Water IssuesWASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) plan to work together on water resource development and management for developing countries.
The two agencies will sign a partnering document on Thursday, during the World Water Council's 12th Board of Governors' meeting in Washington, DC.
The agencies say they share an interest in environmental engineering, flood control, floodplain management, water resources management, infrastructure development, consensus building, water policy, capacity building, and educational methods and systems.
UNESCO-IHE has been providing postgraduate education and training in the fields of water and environment since 1957. The institute has contributed to knowledge development through research for the benefit of the developing world.
Since its establishment, UNESCO-IHE has trained more that 12,000 engineers from 120 countries.
The Corps and UNESCO-IHE hope the agreement leads to further research, development and improvement of water resources development and management, and to the promotion of safe, economical, efficient and environmentally sound water management practices.
Signing for USACE will be Dominic Izzo, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. Signing for UNESCO-IHE will be its director, Wim van Vierssen.
Bronx Zoo Feathers Help Save Rare BirdsNEW YORK, New York, March 26, 2002 (ENS) - Tail feathers shed by captive hornbills at zoos throughout North America may help protect two rare bird species living deep in the jungles of Sarawak, Malaysia.
The Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) spent two years collecting the donated feathers. The feathers were shipped to Sarawak today, where officials will distribute them to indigenous people for use in traditional headdresses and ceremonies.
Conservationists hope the donations will help offset the tribes' need to hunt rhinoceros and helmeted hornbills, whose populations in the wild have plummeted in recent years.
Hornbills are known for their spectacular bony casques attached to the top of their bills. The Bronx Zoo has both rhinoceros and helmeted hornbills in its collection as well as more than a dozen other hornbill species.
WCS scientists Drs. Elizabeth Bennett and Christine Sheppard developed the innovative feather donation program. Bennett, who has worked with indigenous people in Sarawak for the past 15 years, collaborated with Sarawak's Council of Customs and Traditions to ensure that using feathers from zoo animals is culturally acceptable.
"By every indication hornbill feathers from zoos are just as acceptable in ceremonies," said Bennett. The WCS has also been supplying painted turkey feathers that indigenous people use in hats and capes, as well as wear on their hands during dances.
"This was a cooperative effort involving 15 accredited zoos across the U.S. to help save these species," said Sheppard, the Bronx Zoo's curator of ornithology. "WCS will continue to work with the zoo community to protect these magnificent birds from extinction."
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