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AmeriScan: March 16, 2004

EPA Misled Public on Quality of U.S. Drinking Water

WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - Officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have repeatedly made misleading statements about supposed improvements in U.S. drinking water quality, according to the EPA's Inspector General's office.

From 1999 to 2002, the agency reported "meeting its annual performance goal for drinking water quality even though it concurrently reported that the data used to draw those conclusions were flawed and incomplete," the Inspector General said in the report.

For the agency's annual performance goal to be met, 91 percent of the nation's drinking water must meet public health standards.

"EPA's own analysis, supported by our review, indicated that the correct number was unknown, but less than what was reported," according to the Inspector General's office.

The internal report also cited numerous claims by senior Bush administration officials in 2003 and 2004 that incorrectly "portrayed [EPA's] success at improving drinking water quality."

EPA data audits show that some 77 percent of known monitoring and reporting violations, and 35 percent of known health standard violations, are not included in the agency's compliance database.

In addition, the inspector general's report confirmed the finding of several EPA documents that many of these monitoring and reporting violations likely are "masking" health standard violations.

The report said the "inaccuracy in the reporting does not necessarily indicate a direct or immediate threat to public health."

Environmentalists say the report is evidence that the EPA is failing the public.

"The EPA's regulatory system is broken," said Erik Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The lead crisis in Washington, DC is only a small part of the problem we have nationwide, and the EPA is asleep at the wheel."

"Instead of leveling with the public and admitting there are serious problems with our drinking water quality," Olson said, "EPA officials have been making rosy claims that they know are misleading."

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Longline Swordfish Industry Shifts to Hawaii

LONG BEACH, California, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - In order to protect endangered sea turtles, the U.S. federal government banned commercial longline fishing for swordfish last week for a large area of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast. But as of April 1, Hawaiian waters will be reopened for swordfish longliners, and conservationists fear the vessels that have been fishing out of California ports will just move across the Pacific to the Hawaiian islands.

The two dozen commercial vessels affected by the new rules use nearly invisible lines up to 60 miles long carrying thousands of baited hooks. In addition to the fish they target, these long lines are known to ensnare the critically endangered leatherback turtle, as well as other endanagered sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals and sharks.

The practice has been banned since 1999 for all U.S. longline vessels landing in Hawaii and the practice is also banned in California state waters.

"These longliners have been fishing with the same gear in the same areas and kill the same endangered sea turtles that Hawaii longliners used to until they were shut down a few years ago," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The only difference is that these fishers land their catch in California, instead of Hawaii and thus skirt the law to protect these endangered species."

The ban is set to take effect on April 12. It comes in the wake of an August 2003 ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that found the the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to analyze the impacts of the California based longline swordfishery on endangered sea turtles and sea birds.

In Hawaiian waters, longline fishers will return to fewer fishing days, federal observers on board at all times and strict limits on the number of turtles that can be snagged alive or dead 16 in the case of leatherback turtles, 17 for loggerhead turtles.

But environmentalists caution that the California longline fleet is only part of massive global industry. California longliners set approximately one million hooks per year - the international industry sets some two billion hooks annually.

"Without global efforts to reduce fishing related mortality, the Pacific leatherback is a goner," said Todd Steiner, director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. "The Pacific leatherback is just the canary in the coal mine. Unless we end industrial longlining as it is practiced today, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks and many important food fish will be wiped out too."

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U.S. Alone in Dissent of Regional Population Plan

NEW YORK, New York, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - By a nearly unanimous decision - with the United States alone in dissenting - countries in Latin America and the Caribbean last week reaffirmed their support for an international population and reproductive health action plan adopted 10 years ago.

More than 300 delegates from 40 Latin American and Caribbean nations met last week to review progress in carrying out the 20 year action plan endorsed at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.

The United States was the only country to disagree with a declaration linking poverty eradication to greater access to services for family planning, safe motherhood and HIV/AIDS prevention.

The declaration calls on Latin American and Caribbean countries to guarantee that young men and women have access to information, education and services required to develop skills to prevent HIV infection.

Where possible, the text adds, nations should provide free treatments to persons with HIV/AIDS, while respecting their privacy and confidentiality.

Delegates also agreed that countries should ensure universal access to the widest possible range of family planning methods, particularly for the poorest sectors, indigenous peoples and marginalized social and ethnic groups.

The United States disassociated itself from the declaration, citing differences related to HIV/AIDS, adolescents and abortion.

Bush administration officials in particular objected to the lack of reference to abstinence and said the text ignored Cairo language linking adolescents' rights to the role and responsibilities of parents. In particular, officials expressed concerns made by in the past by some of the region's delegations that nothing in United Nations conference documents should be seen as promoting or supporting abortion.

But unlike the United States, each of the nine countries on record with reservations supported the declaration.

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An Earth Day Challenge For Multinational Banks

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - A San Francisco based environmental group is challenging U.S. based multinational banks to meet or beat new industry environmental practices recently announced by Citigroup.

In January Citigroup, the world's largest bank, announced a new policy setting standards related to endangered ecosystems, illegal logging, ecologically sustainable development and climate change.

The move was in part due to pressure from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

The letter RAN sent last week to 10 U.S. based banks set an Earth Day deadline for them to follow suit. Earth Day falls each year on April 22.

"Mega-banks should be environmental leaders, not laggards," said Ilyse Hogue, director of the Global Finance Campaign at Rainforest Action Network.

There is ample evidence that action on pressing environmental issues - in particular global warming - merit policy shifts by these banks, according to the letter.

"The jury is no longer out on the effects of global warming and deforestation," said Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "The time has come to redefine capital and redirect its flow away from environmentally fatal projects. The era of investments that reap short term profits while bankrupting our environment is over."

Letters were sent to JP Morgan Chase, Bank One, Bank of America, Fleet Boston Financial, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, John Hancock, Wachovia, U.S. Bancorp, and SunTrust.

The letter calls on the banks to phase out all funding and investment for extractive industries in endangered ecosystems and to take steps to support the rights of indigenous and local populations. Rainforest Action Network is asking the banks to make sure funded projects do not support illegal logging and to seek opportunities to support sustainable energy projects.

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Accused Arsonist Scarpitti Arrested in Canada

PORTLAND, Oregon, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - A fugitive environmentalist wanted in Portland in connection with two arson fires was arrested in Victoria, British Columbia Monday while shoplifting.

Michael James Scarpitti, known as Tre Arrow, was arrested while trying to steal some bolt cutters, and was identified by his fingerprints, said Robert Jordan, an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent in Portland.

Scarpitti

Michael Scarpitti was arrested Monday in Victoria, BC. (Photo courtesy FBI)
The FBI had posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to Scarpitti's arrest and featured him on its December 2003 Most Wanted Fugitives List online.

The first arson attack of which Scarpitti is accused happened at Ross Island Sand and Gravel in Portland on April 15, 2001. Three trucks were damaged in the amount of $200,000. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed this fire via a written communique. The U.S. Department of Justice says it considers ELF to be a "domestic terrorism group."

Scarpitti was indicted by a federal grand jury in Oregon and charged with four felonies for this crime on October 18, 2002.

The second arson happened at Ray Schoppert Logging Company in Estacada, Oregon, on June 1, 2001. Two logging trucks and a front loader were damaged in this attack. No person or group claimed this act of arson.

Scarpitti is among four activists indicted on August 13, 2002 for allegedly setting the logging trucks on fire to protest logging on the slopes of Oregon's Mount Hood.

Scarpitti first came to attention of police in July 2000 when he scaled a U.S. Forest Service building in downtown Portland and lived on a ledge for 11 days to protest timber policies.

In October 2001, he suffered several broken bones when he fell 60 feet from a hemlock tree where he had perched to protest a logging sale in Tillamook County.

The FBI said it did not know how long Scarpitti has been in Canada. The agency said he often traveled by hitchhiking, hitching rides at or near truck stops barefooted and carrying a large, black backpack and a black guitar case.

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Wilderness Decision Delayed for Tumacacori Highlands

TUCSON, Arizona, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - The Arizona Game and Fish Commission announced last week it has delayed its final decision on wilderness protection for the Tumacacori Highlands, an area that provides habitat for some 90 different native mammal species.

After a public hearing on the issue, the commission directed the state Game and Fish Department to work with interested parties to analyze all solutions available for the area, including wilderness designation.

Situated in the Sky Islands region of Arizona roughly 40 miles south of Tucson, the Tumacacori Highlands is one of the most diverse areas in the country for mammals.

The wilderness proposal, formally announced in early January by Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva, would safeguard nearly 85,000 acres of the area.

Southeastern Arizona as a whole has the highest concentration of jaguar sightings in the nation and offers birding enthusiasts one of the most species rich habitats in the world.

Conservationists, who are keen to see the area protected, welcomed the delay.

"We are pleased the commission did not take a premature stance on the proposal," said Matt Skroch, field director of the Sky Islands Alliance, a member of the grassroots group Friends of the Tumacacori Highlands. "It makes sense for the Commission to provide constructive input and wait until actual legislation is drafted to take a position."

The proposal also expands the existing Pajarita Wilderness, which has more than 660 species of plants, 17 of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts have also joined the fight to preserve the area.

Rated "excellent" by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Highlands are an exceptional whitetail deer hunting ground.

In addition, the wilderness proposal preserves more than 20 separate access roads that will allow recreational visitors to reach a wide variety of areas on every side of the Highlands wilderness.

"Hunters need access to a balanced ecosystem for the production of diverse wildlife and game species," says Ben Lomeli, a supporter of the wilderness proposal, an avid sportsman and president of the Rio Rico group Friends of the Santa Cruz River. "We need to protect this area from the impacts to the ecosystem from new roads or mines."

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Arizona Mountain Lion Dispute Settled

WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - A coalition of animal rights and conservation organizations has reached a settlement with the federal government in a lawsuit challenging the killing of mountain lions in the Four Peaks Wilderness Area of the Tonto National Forest in southeastern Arizona.

The groups had argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wilderness Act, and other laws by authorizing, assisting, and funding the Arizona Game and Fish Department's project to kill mountain lions in order to study the impact of those killings on the bighorn sheep population.

Internal memos from Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists indicated that disease transmission from domestic sheep, habitat degradation, and drought are all threats to the bighorn sheep population.

Although mountain lion predation is the least of these factors related to bighorn sheep survival, the three year study sought to kill 75 percent of the mountain lions within the study area. In addition it called for the capture of up to 15 bighorn sheep several times a year with nets shot from guns out of helicopters.

Under the terms of the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will notify the organizations if the Arizona Game and Fish Department requests further funding to kill mountain lions.

In addition, the U.S. Forest Service will analyze the environmental impacts of the Heber-Reno domestic sheep "driveway" on the Tonto National Forest's bighorn sheep population and no further helicopter landings will be permitted in the Four Peaks Wilderness Area to capture desert bighorn sheep.

The Forest Service will also study the compatibility of various recreational uses, including hunting and off-road vehicle use, where bighorn sheep and mountain lions are present.

"Although several mountain lions were tragically killed for this so-called study, we are pleased that the agencies must now consider the real causes of the declining bighorn sheep population, rather than sanctioning the illegal and inhumane killing of mountain lions," said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals.

The suit was filed by Markarian's group, along with Animal Defense League of Arizona, The Humane Society of the United States, Mountain Lion Foundation, Forest Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Protection Institute, and Flagstaff Activist Network.

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Nationwide Water Consumption Stable

WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2004 (ENS) - Despite growing population and increasing electricity production, water use across the United States remains fairly stable, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

A new USGS report finds that in 2000, Americans used 408 billion gallons of water per day, a number that has remained fairly stable since 1985. The nation's peak recorded water usage came in 1980 when the U.S. used 440 billion gallons.

Personal water use is rising, the USGS says, but not faster than population change. The average American uses some 100 gallons of water a day.

"It is pretty good news for the nation that despite the increasing need for water, we have been able to maintain our consumption at fairly stable levels for the past 15 years," said USGS Chief Hydrologist Robert Hirsch. "It shows that advances in technology in irrigation and power generation allow us to do more with less water."

In the report, "Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000," USGS researchers found that the chief U.S. water users are electric power generation, agriculture and public water supply.

Power generators make up 48 percent of the usage and irrigation accounts for 34 percent.

Public supply, which delivers water to homes, businesses, and industries, accounts for 11 percent of daily water usage - it has increased from 34 billion gallons in 1980 to 43 billion gallons in 2000.

Self-supplied industrial users, livestock, mining, aquaculture and domestic wells - all combined - account for about seven percent of the nation's daily water usage.

Freshwater withdrawals were 85 percent of the total, and the remaining 15 percent was saline water.

Estimates of withdrawals by source indicate that for 2000, total surface-water withdrawals were 79 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories of use and some 81 percent of surface water withdrawn was freshwater

Compared to 1985, the nation is using 14 percent more groundwater and about two percent less surface water, according to the report.

"Sound planning for water depends on a sound understanding of the nation's water resources and a sound understanding of how people will use water in the future," Hirsch said.

"This study will help the public, decision makers, engineers and scientists better understand water use," Hirsch said. In addition, it will "aid in the development of long term national water policy and ensure that information is available to take proper steps now to ensure water availability for future generations of Americans."

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