AmeriScan: March 22, 2005

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San Francisco to Host World Mayors for Green Cities Event

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - Mayor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that mayors from around the world will meet in San Francisco June 1-5 to debate and sign historic accords for Green Cities at the 2005 United Nations World Environment Day conference.

Newsom made the announcement at City Hall flanked by San Francisco’s former mayors U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Willie L. Brown Jr. Along with Frank Jordan and Art Agnos, the former mayors are co-chairs of the World Environment Day Host Committee.

Those slated to attend the conference include UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme Klaus Toepfer, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and mayors from London, Shanghai, Kabul, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Rome, and Istanbul.

During the conference, the international gathering of mayors will share ideas and experiences to develop a set of Urban Environmental Accords, which will provide a roadmap for environmental improvements in cities.

“This is the first United Nations conference to focus on urban environment, so I am very pleased that San Francisco’s former mayors can join me as co-chairs of this event,” Newsom said. “The accords that we mayors sign will leave a legacy that advances environmental wellbeing for cities around the world.”

The United Nations Environment Programme awarded the conference to San Francisco, the first time the conference has ever been held in the United States. It is being hosted by the Mayor and the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

“Mayors have the power to shape the future of the world’s environment,” said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “With the majority of the Earth’s population living in cities, decisions made at World Environment Day will have far-reaching effect.”

Beyond the official calendar of the conference, Newsom noted that more than 150 community activities are scheduled around World Environment Day. The activities range from special organic menu selections at Bay Area restaurants to a display of artwork made from recycled material. In addition, there will be a Green Cities Expo with booths and exhibits at Fort Mason June 3 through 5.

“I look forward to working closely with leaders of the world’s major cities to establish guidelines for environmentally sensible urban life,” Newsom said. “This conference is a remarkable opportunity for all of us.”

The Accords cover urban design, transportation, energy, open space, recycling, health, and water - they can be reviewed and commented on at: urbanaccords.org. The accords will be signed at City Hall on June 5.

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Hogan Moves to Top Spot in Fish and Wildlife Service

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton has named Matthew Hogan to be acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until a new director is nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Hogan has served as the Service's deputy director for the past three years. He will assume the duties of FWS Director Steve Williams, who announced his resignation earlier this month to become president of the Wildlife Management Institute.

"Matt Hogan has played a major role in furthering the President's commitment to cooperative conservation through partnerships with states, tribes, local communities, conservation groups and others," Norton said. "He will provide continuity and skillful leadership to the Service during the period of transition to a new director."

Hogan, 37, comes to the position from a sportsman's background, rather than that of a conservationists. Before joining the Service in 2002, Hogan spent four years as conservation policy director of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, serving as a liaison between the hunting, fishing and conservation communities and the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus.

Prior to that, he was government affairs manager for Safari Club International and legislative director for Congressman Pete Geren of Texas, a Democrat.

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Phoenix Air Meets Federal Smog Standard

PHOENIX, Arizona, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to redesignate the Phoenix metropolitan area as having met the federal health standard for 1-hour ozone, or smog.

Ozone is a gas that occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere to protect earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. At ground level, ozone is created by a chemical reaction involving sunlight, high temperatures and pollutants such as car exhaust, oil and gas vapors, and paint and hairspray fumes.

Mobile sources such as cars and trucks cause the majority of the Phoenix valley’s volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions.

The Phoenix area has not violated the federal 1-hour ozone standard in the last eight years, despite its growth into one of the country's major metropolitan areas. The EPA also proposed to approve the state's plan that shows how the region will continue to maintain healthy levels of 1-hour ozone in the area.

The agency also approved a boundary change to exclude the Gila River Indian Community from the Phoenix 1-hour ozone maintenance area given topography, meteorology, population and expected growth, and other factors show that the area is and continues to be isolated from historic 1-hour ozone problems associated with the Phoenix area north of the reservation.

"The state and local community have worked hard to improve Phoenix's air quality and we commend that effort," said Wayne Nastri, the regional administrator for the EPA's Pacific Southwest office. "We must now build on this progress to address additional regional air pollutants, such as coarse particulate matter and 8-hour ozone, for all Phoenix residents."

"This is good news for Valley residents, who have seen their air quality improve dramatically over the past eight years," said Maricopa Association of Governments Chair Keno Hawker, Mayor of the City of Mesa.

"Cleaner air means an improved quality of life. We have worked hard at both the local and regional level to implement the control measures needed to reduce ozone pollution, and the redesignation is the result of a strong partnership among municipal governments, the Governor's Office, State Legislature, Maricopa County, business and industry in addressing regional issues."

"This is great news for everyone in the Valley,"Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens said. "The steps we have been taking to cut down on the emissions that conbtribute to the formation of ozone pollution clearly are working."

State and local agencies run a number of innovative programs that have reduced VOCs and nitrogen oxide emissions, including a nationally recognized vehicle emissions inspection program, a cleaner burning gasoline program, pollution reduction measures for commercial and industrial sources, and woodburning restrictions.

After the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, the Phoenix area did not meet the moderate 1-hour ozone standard by the November 15, 1996 deadline. In 1997, the EPA reclassified the area to serious, with a new attainment date of November 15, 1999. The Phoenix metropolitan area has not exceeded the 1-hour ozone standard since 1996.

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Utah Flood Damage Repairs Mount to $9.2 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that $3.2 million in Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) funds will help restore natural resources and protect property damaged by recent flooding in Washington County, Utah.

"These funds will provide technical and financial assistance to undertake emergency measures to remove threats to lives and property and restore the environment," Johanns said.

The funding announced today is in addition to $6 million for emergency environmental restoration work in Utah that the agency announced on February 1, 2005.

Earlier this year, heavy rains caused severe flooding along the Santa Clara River in southwestern Utah. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide EWP assistance to stabilize streambanks and remove debris. These measures will protect the public and local infrastructure from future flooding, given a snowpack in excess of 300 percent of normal in the upper areas of the river's watershed.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service works with local project sponsors to reduce imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, earthquakes, tornados and other natural disasters.

Emergency Watershed Protection Program projects provide sound erosion control measures that are what the USDA deems "economically and environmentally defensible" and include removing debris, reshaping and protecting eroding banks, repairing levees and reseeding damaged areas.

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Newark Superfund Cleanup Costs US$3 Million

NEWARK, New Jersey, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached an agreement with 11 private parties, requiring them to immediately pay $800,000 for part of the $3 million in cleanup work conducted by EPA at the Bayonne Barrel & Drum Superfund site in Newark.

The parties are also required to pay the $2.2 million balance of EPA's past cleanup expenditures, minus the value of future work that is anticipated to be conducted at the site by private parties.

"EPA is pleased that the private parties have stepped up to the plate to clean up the contamination at the Bayonne Barrel & Drum site, which will be protective to people's health," said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan from her office in New York. "With this agreement, EPA will be reimbursed for the cost of our work, while the responsible parties continue to clean up the site at their own expense."

Bayonne Barrel & Drum operated as a barrel and drum reconditioning facility in the early 1940s until the early 1980s when the company filed for bankruptcy. The site is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin/furans, metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum hydrocarbons and various other hazardous substances.

A number of companies, including the parties named in this settlement and in a prior settlement, are deemed potentially responsible because their drums were sent to the site for reconditioning.

In 1994, EPA established site security, and has since removed 46,000 drums including liquid and solid hazardous wastes, cyanide residue, tank liquids and sludges, and dioxin contaminated ash piles.

In 2003, EPA entered into a prior agreement with the 11 private parties to conduct additional cleanup work. They agreed to maintain site security, abate and remove asbestos, and dispose of various waste materials from the site including liquids, solids, sludges, tanks, piping and other equipment. The private parties also demolished buildings and other structures on the site and disposed of the demolition debris.

To date, they have spent about $1.2 million cleaning up the site. They are working towards developing a final cleanup plan. EPA and the private parties expect to enter into a third settlement agreement for the final cleanup.

Under the current settlement, the private parties are obligated to pay the balance of EPA's past cleanup costs within 18 months. This payment is subject to a potential adjustment based on the amount of future work private parties are expected to perform at the site.

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Yellowstone Wolves Help Scavengers Survive Climate Warming

BERKELEY, California, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - Once nearly extinct, Yellowstone National Park's gray wolves have returned to play a critical role in easing the effects of climate change on food availability, new research from the University of California, Berkeley shows. Reintroduced in 1995, there are now 31 gray wolves at Yellowstone.

When winters are severe, more elk die, providing needed food for the wide range of scavengers in the area, including bears, coyotes, eagles and ravens, the researchers said.

Shorter, warmer winters brought on by global warming increase the survival rate of elk, causing a food shortage for the scavengers at a time when other resources are scarce.

But wolves kill the elk regardless of the winter's severity, the study found, and the wolves share their leftovers, buffering the impact of climate change.

By contrast, other predators, including grizzly bears and mountain lions, will either guard or hide their kills from scavengers.

"When wolves are around, you no longer get this boom-bust cycle in carrion availability," said the study's lead author, Chris Wilmers, who conducted his work as a Ph.D. student in ecosystem sciences at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "Wolves provide a steady supply of carrion for the scavengers throughout the winter, whether it is mild or severe."

The new study, which appears in the April 2005 issue of the online journal "Public Library of Science Biology," builds upon earlier research led by Wilmers.

"Ravens have adopted a foraging strategy by following the wolves when they are on a hunt," said Wilmers. "When wolves chase down their prey through wide open spaces over long distances, it's as good as a dinner bell. Ravens and other scavengers know that a meal is coming."

The study adds a new twist to the wolves' ability to provide food for other animals. It highlights both the effects of global warming on Yellowstone's ecosystem and the importance of the wolf in helping animals cope with the climate change.

"Few studies have really looked at the impact of global warming on a whole food chain," said Wayne Getz, UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-author of the study. "We're finding that ecosystems that have lost a keystone predator may exhibit less resilience to the impact of climate change. Because wolves ameliorate the effect of weather, the scavenger community will be better able to adapt to changing conditions."

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U.S. Reefs Need Help Now Ocean Scientists Warn

STANFORD, California, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - An international team of marine ecologists is urging the United States to take immediate action to save its fragile coral reefs. "Florida's reefs are well over halfway toward ecological extinction," they wrote in the current issue of the journal "Science." "Large predatory fishes continue to decrease, reefs are increasingly dominated by seaweed and alarming diseases have emerged."

"We're frustrated with how slowly things are moving with coral reef conservation in the United States," said Fiorenza Micheli, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station. "Tiny steps are being taken, but they really don't address the overall problem."

Some of the top ocean scientists from the United States and Australia co-authored an essay that states their case, "Are U.S. Coral Reefs on the Slippery Slope to Slime?"

Lead author John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland joins authors from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and other universities and research institutes in both countries to focus on America's two major coral reef systems in Hawaii and Florida.

Florida's coral reef barrier stretches some 200 miles along the Florida Keys and plays an important role in the state's economy. "Annual revenues from reef tourism are $1.6 billion, but the economic future of the Keys is gloomy owing to accelerating ecological degradation," the authors warned.

In 1990, the U.S. government established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to protect the reef - third longest in the world behind Australia and Belize. But pollution, overfishing, disease and thermal stress caused by climate change remain significant problems throughout the sanctuary, according to the authors.

"Conversion of 16,000 cesspools to centralized sewage treatment and control of other land-based pollution have only just begun," they noted, and only six percent of sanctuary waters have been set aside as "no take zones" where fishing is prohibited.

In contrast, the neighboring countries of Cuba and the Bahamas have agreed to conserve 20 percent of their coral reef ecosystems, while Australia recently zoned one-third of its massive Great Barrier Reef as "no take" in an attempt to reverse further ecological decline.

The coral reefs of Hawaii's main islands - Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii - show degradation similar to that of the Florida Keys, according to the authors.

And while reefs in the isolated northwest Hawaiian Islands remain in relatively good condition, they, too, are showing signs of decline. "Monk seals and green turtles are endangered; large amounts of marine debris are accumulating, which injure or kill corals, seabirds, mammals, turtles and fishes; and levels of contaminants, including lead and PCBs, are high," they write.

To prevent further ecological deterioration, the research team recommended that the United States start managing its coral reefs as whole ecosystems instead of fragmented habitats.

Stopping overfishing will require integrated systems of "no take" areas as well as quotas on harvests, they said, and "terrestrial runoff of nutrients, sediments and toxins must be greatly reduced by wiser land use and coastal development."

In addition, "slowing or reducing global warming trends is essential for the long-term health of all tropical coral reefs."

There is still time to reverse the destruction, if the United States invests in this approach, the scientists say. "Short-lived species, like lobster, conch and aquarium fish will recover and generate income in just a few years," they projected.

"Longer-lived species will recover, water quality will improve and the ecosystem will be more resilient to unforeseen future threats. Ultimately, we will have increased tourism and the possibility of renewed sustainable extraction of abundant megafauna. One day, reefs of the United States could be the pride of the nation."

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