AmeriScan: March 4, 2004

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U.S. Allows Trade in Caviar of Threatened Beluga Sturgeon

WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - A special rule to exempt trade in meat and caviar from threatened beluga sturgeon from permits normally required under the Endangered Species Act was issued Thursday by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Currently, eight coastal countries with indigenous beluga populations allow the commercial harvest and export of beluga sturgeon: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkmenistan.

"We believe this special rule provides great incentives to countries harvesting beluga sturgeon to work with the U.S. to restore and conserve wild populations," said Service Director Steve Williams. "The rule is also an effective tool to encourage aquaculture facilities to get involved in the recovery of these economically valuable fish."

Environmentalists and marine scientists criticized the new policy which applies to international, foreign and interstate commerce. They cited evidence of the sturgeon's decline in recent years, and said the exemption could mean extinction of the most valuable fish in the world.

Caviar Emptor - a coalition of SeaWeb, Natural Resources Defense Council and the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science - said it had expected the Service to restrict or ban beluga caviar imports after the agency placed beluga sturgeon on the threatened species list last year.

The ruling comes after a four year struggle by conservationists to reverse the decline of the beluga, whose population in the Caspian Sea has plummeted by 90 percent in the past two decades due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and lack of effective governmental management.

Caviar Emptor has been urging protection for the fish since it petitioned the government in December 2000 to list the fish as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“Science shows that the best chance for recovery would have been to give beluga sturgeon a complete break. Today’s decision falls short of that,” said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, professor and director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science.

“The candle is burning on both ends for the species, with surveys showing fewer and fewer young fish entering the population and many adults killed for their caviar before having a chance to reproduce."

The eight countries must submit written management plans, annual reports and copies of national fishing laws on a specified schedule to the Service in order to use this exemption. If an exporting country fails to meet that schedule, then U.S. importers would have to comply with all the Act's permitting requirements for threatened species.

The sturgeon range countries have six months from today to submit their beluga sturgeon conservation and management plans to the Service for review.

Williams said that during this time, imports, re-exports, and interstate commerce of certain beluga sturgeon products will not require threatened species permits, but still must be accompanied by permits issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global agreement that monitors and controls trade in fish, wildlife and plants through a system of permits.

Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We are extremely disappointed that the beluga caviar trade was not banned. This decision does not go far enough to provide beluga sturgeon with the protection it needs, especially given that the U.S. is the world’s largest importer of beluga caviar.”

“It is in the hands of consumers to help save this species,” said Dawn Martin, executive director of SeaWeb. “It doesn’t make sense to eat the eggs of a threatened species such as beluga sturgeon. There are a number of exquisite American caviars in which we can indulge with pure enjoyment and without guilt.”

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Uranium, Arsenic in Drinking Water Costs Nebraska Town Millions

McCOOK, Nebraska, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - With higher than permitted levels of nitrates, uranium and arsenic in its drinking water, the city of McCook, Nebraska has settled with federal and state authorities on compliance with the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska, and the Attorney General for the State of Nebraska Thursday filed the agreement in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska in Omaha together with a complaint alleging violations of both acts.

Under the terms of the agreement, McCook agreed to make improvements to its drinking water system to ensure compliance with maximum contaminant limits for nitrates, uranium and arsenic.

McCook also will be required to upgrade its sewage treatment system to ensure that its ammonia discharges to the Republican River do not exceed limits set forth in the city’s permit issued by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The estimated cost of the improvements to the city’s drinking water system and sewage treatment plant is in the neighborhood of $12.75 million.

In addition, McCook agreed to pay a total civil penalty of $225,000, comprised of penalties of $136,000 for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and $89,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act. The United States and the State of Nebraska will each receive a portion of the penalties.

Because of heightened risk to vulnerable segments of the population, the city will be required to continue providing bottled water for households with children and pregnant women until new treatment to remove nitrate is installed and working.

Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division Tom Sansonetti, said, “This settlement protects particularly vulnerable members of the population, children, and pregnant women.”

Jim Gulliford, EPA Region 7 administrator said, “The very productive collaboration with our state partners is helping us fulfill our mission of sensitive population protection, which is one of Region 7's three strategic priorities.”

The city of McCook is located in the southwestern portion of Nebraska in Red Willow County, approximately 60 miles south of North Platte and 14 miles from the Kansas border. McCook lies along the Republican River, which flows from Colorado along much of the southern border of Nebraska, turns southward, and eventually joins the Kansas River. McCook has a population of some 8,000 people.

Excessive levels of nitrates in drinking water can interfere with infants’ ability to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream, thereby heightening the risk of methemoglobinemia, a rare but sometimes fatal condition also known as blue baby syndrome. Nitrates might also increase the risk of miscarriages.

Excessive uranium in drinking water can result in toxic effects to the kidneys, and with long exposure, may increase cancer risk.

Studies have linked long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancer effects of ingesting arsenic include cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects such as diabetes.

The complaint also alleges that for at least five years, McCook has violated the Clean Water Act by failing to comply with the summer seasonal ammonia concentration and mass limitations contained in its National Pollution Discharge permit for the city’s publicly owned treatment works. This facility discharges water into the Republican River, which is on the Nebraska list of impaired waters. Ammonia can be toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates.

The settlement is subject to a 30 day public comment period.

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Mississippi Builders Guilty of Siting Septic Systems in Wetland

JACKSON, Mississippi, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - A petit jury in Jackson, Mississippi has handed guilty verdicts to three individuals and two corporations charged with Clean Water Act violations in connection with their development of wetlands in a subdivision on property in Vancleave, Mississippi, known as Big Hill Acres.

The individuals and corporations also were convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud for having sold hundreds of home sites in the 2,600 acre wetland despite numerous warnings from public health officials that they were illegally installing septic systems in saturated soil.

Robert Lucas, Jr., of Lucedale, Mississippi; his daughter, Robbie Lucas Wrigley of Ocean Springs, Mississippi; and M. E. Thompson, Jr., of D’Iberville, Mississippi, and two affiliated corporations; Big Hill Acres, Inc., and Consolidated Investments, Inc. were convicted last Friday.

They were charged with the crimes by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

The indictment charged that as early as 1996, inspectors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed Robert Lucas that substantial portions of the Big Hill Acres property contained wetlands and could not be developed as home sites.

The indictment recites a long record of warnings that the Mississippi Department of Health and other regulatory agencies issued to the defendants notifying them of the public health threat they were creating by continuing to install septic systems in saturated soil. Warnings stated that these systems were likely to fail and contaminate the property and the drinking water aquifer below it.

Neither those warnings nor cease and desist orders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency restrained Lucas, Wrigley, and engineer M. E. Thompson from improperly installing systems that did not conform to state health department regulations in lots that they continued to develop and sell.

"The defendants illegally filled hundreds of acres of wetlands and defrauded low-income residents of Big Hill Acres who ended up with leaking sewage that put the health of their families at risk," said Thomas Skinner, EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The Big Hill Acres residents have suffered from seasonal flooding and the discharge of sewage from failing septic systems on the ground around their homes. The development has been the subject of numerous civil lawsuits by tenants against the developers.

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Hawaii Superferry to Sail With No Environmental Study

HONOLULU, Hawaii, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - A new high speed ferry that is proposed for travel between the Hawaiian Islands will not have to undergo an environmental impact statement before it begins interisland voyages. Hawaii Superferry executives said an impact statement could have deep-sixed the project.

A committee of the State Senate Wednesday killed a bill that would have required the environmental study. The State Transportation Department said an environmental impact statement is not required by law.

Now the ferry service is set to begin shuttling between Honolulu and Maui, Kaua'i and the Big Island in early 2007.

The Senate Transportation and Government Operations Committee received written and oral testimony from more than 100 people and then voted unanimously to allow the ferry to go ahead.

Environmental groups, canoe clubs, shippers, and other harbor users, argued that the scope and operation of the ferry project in four harbors would impact the environment by bringing more cars to the islands, and introducing invasive species.

They raised concerns that the ferries would interfere with the humpback whales that frequently island waters in the winter months.

State officials said the ferry would use existing harbor facilities, and that the Senate bill unfairly singled out the ferry operations when other port users, such as cruise ships and cargo lines, did not have to do an environmental assessment before sailing.

Planned harbor changes for the ferry do not require dredging, permanent facilities or any waterside construction, said Rod Haraga, director of the state Transportation Department, which is asking the Legislature to approve $40 million for barges and ramps that will be used to move cars and other vehicles between the ferry and the docks.

Superferry CEO John Garibaldi said a lengthy environmental process would have caused his investors to back away from the project. He said he would lose $200 million in financing if he did not have the green light by June 30.

Garibaldi promised to address the environmental concerns raised by the ferry's critics.

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Citigroup Requires Certification of Rogue Timber Client

NEW YORK, New York, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - Forest protection advocates, human rights activists and socially responsible investors today praised Citigroup for "its proactive constructive engagement to help end endangered forest destruction, rampant illegal logging and related human rights abuses in Southeast Asia."

During an environmental and social risk management Briefing at Citigroup’s New York headquarters this week, Prince told stakeholders that client Rimbunan Hijau, a Malaysian logging giant with a well-documented history of human rights abuses and illegal logging activities, must comply with a set of progressive new environmental policies adopted by the bank last year.

Prince said Citigroup will require Rimbunan Hijau to obtain credible, independent, third party certification for its Papua New Guinea operations and specified the Forest Stewardship Council program by name during his comments.

“I commend Citigroup CEO Charles Prince for having the courage of his convictions and demonstrating that American business can operate ethically and profitably,” said Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, which has been working to sensitize Citigroup to environmental concerns for two years.

“It will require this type of ongoing leadership to reform rogue industrial powers like Rimbunan Hijau," Brune said.

The environmental community and socially responsible investors are awaiting formal targets and timelines from Citigroup for Rimbunan Hijau’s certification process, said Brune.

In January 2004, Rainforest Action Network and Citigroup announced that Citigroup had adopted a comprehensive environmental policy including initiatives on endangered ecosystems, illegal logging, ecologically sustainable development and climate change.

During the implementation process, Rainforest Action Network alerted Citigroup to investigations into Rimbunan Hijau by London-based Environmental Investigations Agency, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and Dateline, Australia's longest running international current affairs television program.

A recently released report on Rimbunan Hijau prepared by the Papua New Guinea Department of Labour and Employment found widespread corruption, bribery and human rights abuses. The investigation revealed that Rimbunan Hijau employees were treated like slaves by the company’s privately paid police squad and forced to live in appalling conditions in company-controlled logging camps.

A November 2004 news program entitled “Jungle Justice,” produced by Dateline for SBS-TV in Australia, exposed a culture of violence and cover-up at the heart of Rimbunan Hijau’s logging operations in Papua New Guinea.

A January 2004 Greenpeace report, “The Untouchables: Rimbunan Hijau’s world of forest crime and political patronage,” also documented allegations that the Malaysian cartel was trafficking unlawfully harvested rainforest timber for export to the global marketplace, destructively logging vast areas of ancient forest in defiance of national laws, local customs and the rights of resource owners, and using the protection of political elites to impoverish local people.

"Over the past five years, a coalition of socially responsible investors has talked with Citigroup about reducing business risks by considering impacts to ecosystems and local communities affected by its financing decisions,” said Steve Lippman, senior social research analyst at Trillium Asset Management.

He said Prince's demand that Rimbunan Hijau conform to ethical principles demonstrates that "these policies can make a real difference and can help protect endangered regions and long-term shareholder value at the same time."

"We expect this kind of proactive engagement to become the norm over time in the banking industry and challenge other financial institutions to follow Citigroup's positive lead," Lippman said.

"This is a big boost for our on-going campaign to improve the quality of forest management in Papua New Guinea and to stop illegal and unsustainable logging," said Kenn Mondiai, chair of the Papua New Guinea Eco-Forestry Forum. "We are heartened to see that the plight of our forests and its people is of concern to the international community as only through global action will we see real reform.

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Last Weekend for Comment on National Forest Management Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - The Bush administration has recently overhauled the rules that govern all management activities on the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands.

The new system provides the framework for individual forest management plans. For the first time, an Environmental Management System will be used during the planning process. The Forest Service says the corporate style system will "improve performance and accountability."

“The new rule will improve the way we work with the public by making forest planning more open, understandable and timely,” said Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins. “It will enable Forest Service experts to respond more rapidly to changing conditions, such as wildfires, and emerging threats, such as invasive species.”

But the American Lands Alliance, a forest conservation organization based in Washington, DC, says the new system eliminates fundamental wildlife protections, opens up millions of acres of national forests including old growth, roadless areas and sensitive wildlife habitat to harmful activities, disregards science and shuts the public out of meaningful input.

The new rules change the 1976 National Forest Management Act, which has governed federal forest management on all 192 million acres of National Forests for nearly 30 years.

Most of the new rule changes were finalized January 5, but the administration is accepting public comment until March 7 on a proposal to exempt forest management plans from review and public input required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"The proposed rule would no longer require public review or an analysis of the environmental impacts whenever a forest plan is adopted, revised or significantly amended, including any analysis of other alternatives that may be less harmful," the American Lands Alliance says.

But Collins says the new rule will make forest planning "more timely and cost effective." Currently, the forest planning process takes five to seven years to revise a 15 year management plan.

Collins cites the management plan for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado, which she says took seven years and $5.5 million to revise.

Under the new rule, forest plan revisions will take approximately two to three years, with a comprehensive evaluation of the plan to be completed every five years to ensure it is meeting goals and objectives, Collins explained. "Desired land conditions will be outlined in each management plan, and local managers will be held accountable for their efforts to achieve them. This will make planning more relevant to on-the-ground practices and outcomes."

But the American Lands Alliance says under the new system, the government would no longer have to respond to public concerns about clean water, recreational opportunity or endangered fish and wildlife. The conservation group says that under the changes the public would not have to be given enough information to evaluate the environmental consequences of forest plans.

It would be easier for timber, oil, gas, mining and motorized recreation corporations to profit from the use of public forests while eliminating the need for forest managers to assess potentially harmful impacts on water, wildlife, recreational use, old growth and roadless areas, the conservationists say.

The new system calls for environmental analysis to be done at the project level. But the Lands Alliance points ouit that the Bush administration has already exempted many types of logging projects from environmental review under NEPA mostly "through the misnamed Healthy Forest Initiative” in effect eliminating all environmental review and opportunity for public comment.

Additionally, the proposed rule would eliminate studying or disclosing the cumulative impact of management activities across the national forest, which is usually done at the planning stage.

“This rule applies the most current thinking in natural resources management,” said Collins. “It takes a 21st century approach to delivering the full range of values that Americans want for their quality of life: clean air and water; habitat for wildlife; and sustainable uses that will be available for future generations to enjoy.”

The new plan is online at: www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma.

The American Lands Alliance and other organizations are asking for a last minute flood of public comments that they hope will alter the administration's course. Send comments by March 7 to: USDA Content Analysis Team; Attention: Planning CE; P.O. Box 22777; Salt Lake City, UT 84122. Fax: 801.517.1015; planningce@fs.fed.us

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National Toxic Effluent Guidance Open for Public Comment

WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - Approved methods of measuring waterborne toxics under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permitting Program have been revised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is now accepting public comments on the new guidance document.

The EPA is hosting a public meeting or listening session on its draft Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) Implementation Guidance in San Francisco, California on March 17. Interested parties are invited to express their views on the contents of the draft WET guidance document.

WET tests are designed to predict the impact and toxicity of effluents discharges from point sources into waters of the U.S. The EPA calls WET testing "a vital component of the water quality standards implementation through the NPDES permitting process."

The 109 page draft Implementation Guidance provides regulatory authorities and all stakeholders in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permitting Program, including permittees, with guidance and recommendations on how to implement WET in NPDES permits.

"State permitting authorities may need to revise their current procedures - water quality standards or NPDES, or both - to fully implement the national recommendations presented in this document, the EPA says.

Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET) is a term used to describe the aggregate toxic effect of an aqueous sample, such as a whole effluent wastewater discharge. It is measured by an organism's response upon exposure to the sample. Tests are conducted to determine whether the sample kills the organism, or impairs its growth or reproduction.

WET tests replicate the total effect and actual environmental exposure of aquatic life to toxic pollutants in an effluent without requiring the identification of the specific pollutants.

EPA's promulgated WET test methods include two basic types of tests - an acute test (96 hours or less, endpoint: mortality), and a chronic test (7 day life-cycle test, endpoints: growth, reproduction, and mortality).

The agency has developed WET test protocols using freshwater, marine and estuarine test species.

The EPA recommends running tests using an invertebrate, vertebrate and a plant to identify the most sensitive species for developing NPDES WET permit limits or testing requirements.

Organisms used in WET tests, such as the freshwater flea (Ceriodaphnia dubia) and the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) are indicators or surrogates for the aquatic community to be protected, and a measure of the real biological impact from exposure to the toxic pollutants.

To protect water quality, EPA recommends that WET tests be used in NPDES permits together with requirements based on chemical-specific water quality criteria.

In its WET Implementation Guidance document the EPA "strongly encourages" states authorized to administer the NPDES program to implement the its recommendations to achieve "national consistency in implementing the WET program."

The document clarifies several issues regarding WET implementation and reaffirms EPA guidance in the Technical Support Document for Water Quality-based Toxics Control (TSD) written in 1985 and revised in 1991, and the Agency’s 1994 WET Control Policy.

This guidance document is currently available for public comment until March 31, 2005. For more information on this session, to obtain a copy of the document, or for information on submitting written comments, visit www.epa.gov/npdes

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Chimp Attack in Bakersfield Turns Tragic

BAKERSFIELD, California, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - Two chimpanzees were shot to death Thursday at an animal sanctuary as they attacked a man who came to celebrate the 39th birthday of his former pet chimp. The former pet, Moe, was housed in a cage adjoining the one from which the two attackers escaped.

The two male teenage chimps somehow escaped their enclosure at the Animal Haven Ranch near Havilah, California, and attacked St. James Davis, 62, and his wife Ladonna Davis. They were shot by a member of the family that owns the sanctuary.

The injured man was listed in serious condition in a Bakersfield hospital Friday. Dr. Maureen Martin, of Kern Medical Center, told KGET-TV of Bakersfield that the chimpanzees bit most of Davis' face off and that he would require extensive surgery in an attempt to reattach his nose.

Kern County Sheriff's Cmdr. Hal Chealander told "The Bakersfield Californian" newspaper that besides the damage to his face, Davis had his testicles and foot mauled off.

Two other chimps, females, also escaped from the enclosure they shared with the two attackers, and led sheriff's deputies, animal control workers, and personnel from the California Department of Fish and Game on a chase. They were recovered without incident by Animal Haven owner Virginia Brauer.

Animal Haven has held state permits to shelter animals since 1985 and serves as a sanctuary for lost or confiscated animals.

The Davises visited Moe regularly at the sanctuary where he had been living since October. They brought the chimp from Africa decades ago after a poacher killed his mother.

Davis raised Moe, potty trained him and taught him to write his own name. The couple had relied on Moe's television and film work as a substantial part of their income, the "Los Angeles Times" reported in 2002.

A former NASCAR driver, Davis fought an unsuccessful court battle to bring Moe back to the Davises' West Covina home after the chimp was removed by the city in 1999 after biting a woman.

The couple said the city overreacted when officials removed him from their home the day after he bit a visitor's finger. They hired an attorney and collected nearly 60,000 signatures on a unsuccessful petition demanding the chimp's return.