AmeriScan: March 11, 2005

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Senate Budget Committee Advances Arctic Drilling

WASHINGTON, DC, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate Budget Committee Thursday approved a budget resolution for 2006 that includes estimates on how much oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would return to the Treasury, although such leasing has not been authorized by Congress.

The measure is scheduled for consideration by the full Senate next week.

The House Budget Committee excluded ANWR leasing fees from its budget resolution.

Critics of drilling for oil and gas in the pristine refuge on Alaska's northern coast, say that budget resolutions are not the proper forum for authorizing this controversial policy.

Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who is a senior member of the Budget Committee and its former chairman, supports including ANWR lease calculations in the fiscal year 2006 budget.

Domenici, who now chairs the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, led a congressional delegation to Alaska this past weekend to visit the refuge.

"The budget resolution is the proper avenue for ANWR," Domenici said. "The environmentally-gentle development of oil on a 2,000-acre footprint will generate billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury. The budget is the proper place for provisions generating receipts to offset federal outlays."

But Republican environmentalists disagree. REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, criticized the Senate Budget Committee for coming down "with a case of the political wobbles."

“The budget process should never be simply a vehicle to push through important policy matters that deserve to be debated on their own merits through the normal legislative process,” REP America Policy Director Jim DiPeso said.

"Years ago, the same Senator Domenici spoke out against using the budget as a Trojan horse to force through policy proposals that fail to win support on their own merits. It’s a shame that Senator Domenici has turned his back on the Senate’s tradition of full and fair debate,” DiPeso said.

The House committee, led by Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle, a Republican, "wisely excluded highly speculative estimates on how much oil leases in the Arctic refuge would return to the Treasury. In doing so, Congressman Nussle upheld the integrity of the budget process,” DiPeso said.

The Senate Budget Committee, said DiPeso, "succumbed to political pressure from drilling proponents to include the speculative revenue estimates in its resolution, which, if successful, will both short-circuit debate and make a mockery of honest budgeting."

David Jenkins, REP America’s Government Affairs Director said, “It is truly unfortunate that our party’s leaders are willing to so fervently pursue degrading a natural treasure for a costly and questionable supply of oil that even the major oil companies have little interest in.”

Jenkins added, “Instead of feeding our nation’s dependence on oil, which we will never be self-sufficient in and will always leave us at serious risk of price shock and supply disruption, our leaders must focus their attention on improving energy efficiency and diversifying our energy resource base,” Jenkins said.

Domenici said, "Now is the time for ANWR. Oil is trading above $50 a barrel, we have American boots on the ground in the Middle East, global supplies are tight and China and India are driving up demand."

"Congress passed ANWR in the Balanced Budget Act in 1995," Domenici said. "President [Bill] Clinton promptly vetoed the Balanced Budget Act. We used the budget resolution and reconciliation process then for ANWR and we have used it repeatedly since."

“Congress must debate the energy choices facing America on their merits, not resort to parliamentary tricks that play games with the budget numbers and short-circuit the normal legislative process where these matters should be decided,” DiPeso said.

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Vietnamese Lose Agent Orange Case Against Chemical Companies

NEW YORK, New York, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - Claims by Vietnamese nationals who said they were injured and their land laid waste by the U.S. use of Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam conflict have been dismissed by a federal judge in New York.

Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. were among the more than 30 companies were named in the civil lawsuit. Other companies named include Hercules Inc., Occidental Chemical Corp., Ultramar Diamond Shamrock Corp., Maxus Energy Corp., Uniroyal Inc. and Wyeth.

"There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or state or under any form of international law," U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein wrote in a 233-page ruling. "The case is dismissed."

The suit said that from from 1965 to 1971, as many as four million Vietnamese people were poisoned by dioxins, chemical byproducts of Agent Orange. Dioxins are a class of chemicals that can cause cancer and deformities..

Evidence of injuries in the case was presented in "brief anecdotal form," the judge wrote. "The fact that diseases were experienced by some people after spraying does not suffice to prove ... that the harm resulted to individuals because of the spraying."

"No study or technique presented to the court has demonstrated how it is now possible to connect the herbicides supplied by any defendant to exposure by any plaintiff to dioxin from that defendant's herbicide," he wrote.

The chemical companies claimed that they produced Agent Orange according to U.S. government specifications and that there has never been a proven connection between Agent Orange and health problems as the plaintiffs alleged

The case was considered a test of the reach of U.S. courts and the power of the U.S. president to authorize use of hazardous materials during wartime.

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Judge Rules New England Bycatch Must Be Better Monitored

WASHINGTON, DC, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge has upheld most of New England's new fishing regulations, known as Amendment 13 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which governs groundfish fishing in those waters.

But at the same time the judge handed a key victory to conservation groups that challenged the new rules for harvesting groundfish off New England coasts.

In a decision Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled that the government must set up a better program for monitoring bycatch - that is, the unintentional take of fish, turtles or mammals that are not target species for fish boats.

Oceana, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in two separate complaints against then Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, argued that Amendment 13 did not protect Georges Bank cod and four other depleted groundfish stocks from overfishing.

Plaintiff group Oceana claimed that Amendment 13 does not go far enough in protecting groundfish essential fish habitat, such as ocean bottoms important for juvenile cod development.

In addition, the lawsuits claimed that Amendment 13 does not provide enough observers to ensure that fishermen are complying with bycatch limits.

In part of her ruling, Judge Huvelle came down on the side of the federal agencies. She decided that Amendment 13 is lawful.

"Amendment 13 is being attacked from all sides," the judge wrote. The Trawlers Survival Fund which represents several groups of fishermen, challenged the Secretary for failing to authorize enough fishing, and the conservation groups are challenging the Secretary of Commerce for not limiting fishing enough.

"Amendment 13 reflects the Council’s and the Secretary’s painstaking efforts to achieve a delicate balance that rebuilds stocks and ends overfishing while allowing fishermen to continue fishing those stocks that are healthy," the judge wrote. "Given the complexity of this task, the Court must conclude that Amendment 13 is, with limited exception, reasonable and in accordance with law."

But, saying that fisheries data must be "precise and accurate," Judge Huvelle referred the matter back to the Commerce secretary to develop more specific requirements to monitor bycatch.

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Groups Sue to Block Offshore California Oil and Gas Drilling

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - Ten conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration Wednesday over its decision that no significant environmental effects would result from extending 37 undeveloped oil and gas leases off the Central California coast.

The lawsuit was filed March 9, 2005, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The named defendants are Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior; the U.S. Department of the Interior; the MMS; and Peter Tweedt, Regional Manager of MMS for the Pacific Region.

The lawsuit's primary claim is that the MMS failed to consider all the effects from extending the leases, including those caused by future exploration, drilling, and production. Instead, the MMS made a Finding of No Significant Impact based upon its narrow review of activities that will take place over the next 13 to 37 months. During that time period, the oil companies will update their plans for exploration, development and production.

After an earlier suit brought by the State of California and many of the same conservation groups, a federal appeals court in 2002 ordered the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a division of the Interior Department, to review the environmental impacts of extending the leases.

The groups that sued Wednesday are led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Center. The other groups are the League for Coastal Protection, The Otter Project, Sierra Club, Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Get Oil Out!, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the Surfrider Foundation.

"Californians don't want new oil platforms built off their beautiful coast, and that's why the federal government is trying to sneak these leases under the radar," said NRDC attorney David Newman. "Clearly large scale oil and gas development will have massive impacts on marine mammals, fish, corrals, and the people who depend on healthy oceans, and yet the Bush administration is pretending there aren't any impacts."

The Interior Department originally sold the leases between 1968 and 1984. Development of the leases, located off the coasts of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, would double all historic oil production off the coast of California.

The lawsuit claims that although impacts from development would last for decades, the fuel produced would provide less than two months' energy supply for the nation.

"Once again the Bush administration is violating important environmental protection laws," said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, the nonprofit law firm that initially convinced the State of California to challenge these leases in 1999.

"It is critical that the public and decision-makers have the benefit of a full analysis, including the risks of oil spills, increased air and water pollution, conflicts with commercial fishing, recreation and tourism, and potential harm to sea otters and other marine wildlife," said Krop.

"The law is clear that a public agency must address all of the reasonably foreseeable actions and impacts that may flow from a decision," pointed out Krop. "In this case, the sole purpose of the extensions is to allow the oil industry to commence drilling and production on the leases."

"The federal government is flying blind by ignoring the impacts of oil and gas development on coastal and ocean ecosystems," added Melvin Nutter, chairperson of the League for Coastal Protection. "The law requires that the government take a hard look before they act and to tell the public of the environmental consequences."

The lawsuit also challenges the failure of MMS to consider alternatives to developing these leases, or to analyze cumulative impacts, including other oil and gas development projects and proposals to import liquefied natural gas (LNG).

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CD Trains Water System Operaters in Emergency Response

WASHINGTON, DC, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - A new training tool to help water and wastewater systems improve their emergency response capabilities has been developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Water. The exercises allow water suppliers to test their Emergency Response Plans before an actual incident occurs.

The Emergency Response Tabletop CD-ROM Exercises for Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems contains tabletop exercises to help train water and wastewater utility workers in preparing and carrying-out emergency response plans.

The exercises provided on the CD can help strengthen relationships between a water supplier and their emergency response team - health officials, laboratories, fire, police, emergency medical services, and local, state, and federal officials.

Twelve unique exercises can be created from the CDROM, incorporating teaching points from documents created by the Water Security Division relating to emergency response.

The trainer or user will be able to select the threat warning from the eight basic types described in the Response Protocol Toolbox - security breach, witness account, direct notification by perpetrator, unusual water quality, consumer complaints, notification by public health agency, notification by news agency, notification by law enforcement agency.

The trainer or user will also be able to choose from five basic event types - intentional contamination, security breach, cyber security, physical attack, and interdependency.

Users are encouraged to adapt the materials on the CD to meet their own needs and objectives.

Currently hard copies of the CD can be back-ordered from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications by calling 1-800-490-9198 or by sending an email to ncepimal@one.net. Interested parties wishing to view the materials on the CD before copies are available can currently do so on the Water Security Channel at: http://www.watersc.org/ or on the WaterISAC public site at: http://www.waterisac.org, by clicking on the icon with the EPA logo.

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Colorado Scientists Circumvent Tyranny of Earthquakes

BOULDER, Colorado, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - Rather than waiting for earthquakes to create images of Earth's interior, researchers have recovered surface wave information from normal seismic noise that is constantly produced by fluctuations in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

Measuring surface waves is important because the information helps scientists get a clearer picture of the Earth's interior.

The new method created by University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) researchers will produce quicker, cheaper and clearer images.

"This new technique will give us a better fundamental understanding of the planet by providing much better resolution of Earth's interior," according to Michael Ritzwoller, director of CU-Boulder's Center for Imaging the Earth's Interior.

"It also will diminish what is known in seismology as the tyranny of earthquakes, which means having to wait for an earthquake to happen to do our jobs," he said.

The method is described in today's issue of the journal "Science."

The new method promises significant improvements in the resolution and accuracy of crust and upper mantle images down to 60 miles or more within the Earth, particularly when used with seismic projects like USArray, according to Nikolai Shapiro, a research associate in the Center for Imaging the Earth's Interior and the study's chief author.

Coupled with existing and emerging technology, such as USArray, the new measuring technique will lead to a better fundamental understanding of the structure of the planet and may help save lives in the process, Ritzwoller said.

A component of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) EarthScope program, USArray includes hundreds of portable seismometers that in coming years will be moved over the entire country, producing images of the Earth's interior to aid in earthquake risk assessment.

s "The authors' application of what used to be 'seismic noise' to the detailed mapping of the crust and upper mantle will have significant impact on earth science and on seismic hazard mitigation," says James Whitcomb, head of NSF's deep earth processes section, which funded the research.

Researchers have for years been constructing tomographic images of Earth's crust and upper mantle from waves generated by earthquakes. That method, known as seismic tomography, reconstructs Earth's inner structure on a computer screen, slice by slice. The new technique is similar, but is based on organizing ambient seismic noise, which is typically discarded as seismic "garbage."

Seismic tomography is like doing a medical CT scan of the Earth, Ritzwoller said. But when people have a CT scan, doctors are in control and can make images at will. Seismologists can't control when an earthquake happens, so they can either wait for another one or set off explosives to create their own image-generating waves.

"To move beyond these limitations requires observational methods based on seismic sources other than earthquakes, which is what our method offers," said Shapiro.

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Nominations Open for Conservation, Education Awards

STAMFORD, Connecticut, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - International Paper and The Conservation Fund are accepting nominations for two awards - one in conservation and the other in environmental education. The winners will receive national recognition and $10,000 cash grants at an awards ceremony in Washington, DC, this summer. The $10,000 awards are unrestricted grants from the International Paper Company Foundation.

"International Paper is deeply committed to well-managed forests and environmental protection," said Dr. Sharon Haines, IP's director-sustainable forestry and forest policy. "As a steward of more than 10 million acres of forests worldwide, we place our commitment to sustainable forestry into action daily. The stewardship awards provide a great opportunity to recognize others who make a significant contribution to the environment."

The International Paper Conservation Partnership Award, now in its 17th year, is presented annually to an individual who has achieved significant results in the protection of habitat through a cooperative relationship with a business or company.

Last year's Conservation Partnership Award went to Camilla Herlevich, founder of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. Beginning as a volunteer in 1992, Herlevich built Coastal Land Trust into a successful regional organization that has helped protect more than 28,000 acres of environmentally important habitat - including a number of nationally significant areas - in 21 counties.

Her inspiring vision, skills and experience were keys to developing and implementing the group's North Carolina Coastal Land Conservation Initiative. In doing so, she has built partnerships with individual and company landowners, government agencies, business leaders, university faculty members and other local, regional and national conservation organizations.

Safeguarding riparian systems along the state's rapidly developing coastline has been a high priority for the land trust. Herlevich also worked with the Conservation Trust of North Carolina, to produce, "Conservation Easements: An Introduction for North Carolina Landowners." The publication is used throughout the state to help family forest owners protect the region's biodiversity of wildlife, forests and wetlands.

The International Paper Conservation Partnership Award, in its 9th year, is presented annually to an individual who has achieved results in the protection of habitat through a cooperative relationship with a business or company.

Last year's Environmental Education Award went to co-recipients for the first time. Colorado high school teachers, Melanie Phelps of Colorado Springs and Joyce Webb of Monument won for their environmental training program for teachers that takes them down the Colorado River, Green River and the Yampa River.

During the past five years, the 2004 recipients have guided scores of teachers from throughout the nation and overseas to wilderness areas, through whitewater rapids and into the desert. Participants enrolled in the river programs undertake environmental research projects as well as study water use issues and forestry management in the West.

At the same time, the teachers and, later, their students learn about balance between environmental protection and economic growth.

The two educators also created similar programs within the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek watersheds for their students in the Harrison School District where they teach.

Award nominations are being accepted through April 15. Nomination forms are available on International Paper's website, http://www.internationalpaper.com and at The Conservation Fund's website, http://www.conservationfund.org. A panel of independent judges will select the winners. The recipients will be recognized in an awards ceremony on June 23, 2005 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

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Oregon Demonstrates How to Keep Runoff Free of Lawn Chemicals

PORTLAND, Oregon, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - Misuse and overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers on lawns can lead to surface water problems. Rain or irrigation washes the chemicals off the lawn and into storm drains, and ultimately to rivers and streams. Once in the water, the chemicals can harm fish and other aquatic organisms.

In an effort to keep chemicals out of runoff, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is offering lawn help for householders with a new website.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the DEQ site Healthy Lawns, Healthy Families at: www.healthylawns.org includes information about how lawn care habits influence water quality and tips on how to practice natural lawn care that can produce a healthier lawn and keep waters clean at the same time.

The Department of Environmental Quality partnered with Metro, Clean Water Services, the City of Eugene and the Coalition for Clean Rivers and Streams to create the website content.

The site includes an interactive demonstration of how lawn care habits affect the health of rivers. Visitors to the site are invited to take a pledge to use alternatives to lawn and garden chemicals. Those who pledge will receive a “Natural Lawn Care Practiced Here” lawn sign courtesy of the DEQ.

The site also has videos of Oregonians telling stories about how they successfully use natural methods to create healthy, attractive lawns without harmful chemicals. People shown in the videos are motivated to practice lawn care out of concern for the environmental, and the health of their children and pets.

Oregonians in Central and Eastern Oregon who have reduced the use of chemicals on their lawns and would like to share their stories on video are encouraged to tell DEQ about their natural lawn care successes.

Contact Phil Hodgen at 541-278-4609 or, by email, at hodgen.phil@deq.state.or.us.