AmeriScan: March 29, 2007

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Interior Assistant Secretary Manipulated Endangered Species Science

WASHINGTON, DC, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - A report released today by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior, IG, found that Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who has no biological training, rode roughshod over numerous decisions by agency scientists concerning protection of endangered species.

The report also found that MacDonald violated federal ethics rules by sending what the IG's office called "nonpublic information" to industry lobbyists with groups such as the Pacific Legal Foundation. This self-proclaimed "national leader" in the effort to reform the Endangered Species Act has successfully mounted a number of legal challenges to critical habitat reviews on behalf of their clients such as the California Farm Bureau, the Washington Farm Bureau, and the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association.

The report was conducted at the request of Congressman Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The Inspector General was asked to investigate based on an anonymous report that MacDonald had "bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to change documents and alter biological reporting regarding the Endangered Species program."

"Through interviewing various sources, including FWS employees and senior officials, and reviewing pertinent documents and e-mails," the IG wrote, "we confirmed that MacDonald has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the Endangered Species Program's scientific reports from the field."

MacDonald admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences, such as biology.

Nevertheless, the report found that MacDonald interfered with field reports such as the sage grouse risk analysis, a critical habitat decision for endangered bull trout, a designation of California's northern and southern tiger salamanders as distinct populations, a decision about California's delta smelt, and an analysis of California's vernal pools as critical habitat.

In a number of e-mails and comments on the bull trout critical habitat decision, an agent of the IG's office wrote, "MacDonald forced a reduction in critical habitat miles in the Klamath River basin from 296 to 42 miles."

A former Endangered Species Director, not named in the IG's report, said that overall, "MacDonald did not want to accept petitions to list species as endangered, and she did not want to designate critical habitats."

A former Interior Department assistant secretary, not named by the IG, who was interviewed for the report, said, "she had a fundamental suspicion of FWS employees because of her belief that they were close with the environmental groups."

"When we interviewed Julie MacDonald," the IG's office reported, "she said she is responsible for reviewing, commenting, and at some times editing critical habitat designation reports and five-year endangered species reviews.

"She admitted that she is not always right, as in the case of the vernal pools, but added, 'The figures were a mistake and very embarrassing, but they didn't make a difference in the outcome of the review.'"

"It's a travesty that a high-level political appointee with no training in biology is rewriting the conclusions of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists," said Melissa Waage, legislative director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Bush administration has an unwritten policy to systematically deny protection to imperiled wildlife, dooming them to extinction."

Click here for copy of the Inspector General's report.

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Poll: Global Warming as Big a Threat as Terrorism

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - A new Yale research survey shows that 83 percent of Americans now say global warming is a "serious" problem, up from 70 percent in 2004.

The survey of 1,000 adults nationwide released earlier this month shows that 63 percent of participants agree that the United States "is in as much danger from environmental hazards, such as air pollution and global warming, as it is from terrorists."

The survey reveals growing concern about dependence on Middle Eastern oil, with 96 percent of those interviewed saying this is a serious problem. As a result, the survey shows overwhelming support for increasing the use of alternative energy, including solar and wind power, as well as investing more in energy efficiency.

Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which commissioned the survey, says the United States is in the midst of a "revolution," in which the business community is embracing the profit potential of a burgeoning green consumer movement.

"There's been a dramatic shift in the business community's attitude toward the environment," observes Esty. "Rather than seeing environmental issues as a set of costs to bear, regulation to follow and risks to manage, companies have begun to focus on the upside, recognizing that society's desire for action on climate change, in particular, will create a huge demand for reducing carbon-content products.

More Americans than ever say they have serious concerns about environmental threats. Ninety-three percent are concerned about air pollution, up from 87 percent in 2004, while 92 percent are concerned about toxic soil and water, up from 85 percent in 2004.

Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed are worried about deforestation, up from 78 percent in 2004, and 83 percent are concerned about the extinction of wildlife, up from 72 percent in 2005.

The survey indicates that while 70 percent of those surveyed believe that President George w. Bush does not do enough for the environment and should do more, many are ready to act on their own. Seventy-five percent recognize that their own behavior can help to reduce global warming, and 81 percent believe it is their responsibility to do so.

The results show that many of those questioned want greener products and are ready to spend money to try new technologies that will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seventy percent indicated a willingness to buy solar panels, and 67 percent would consider buying a hybrid car.

"The coalition supporting action on climate change has broadened considerably," said Gus Speth, dean of Yale's environment school. "With the public ready for carbon controls and business stepping up to the climate change challenge, it is disappointing that our political leadership is lagging so badly on this issue."

"It's clear that the public is not waiting for the government to take the lead," said Esty. "Americans no longer think it's entirely the domain of government to solve environmental problems. They expect companies to step up and address climate change and other concerns."

The survey suggests that the public's reasons for wanting investments in alternative energy and action on climate change vary widely. For 49 percent, concern stems from the rising cost of gasoline. Nine-three percent want the nation to be free of imported oil. Forty-three percent believe that preventing global warming is a religious duty.

The survey was conducted on behalf of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies by Global Strategy Group from February 5 to 11, 2007. The survey has an overall margin of error of 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.

The survey questions and full results are online at: www.yale.edu/envirocenter.

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Enviros Urge Strong Farm Bill to Restore Great Lakes

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Farm Bill, an environmental coalition today released a new report urging lawmakers to expand and fully fund programs in the bill that are essential in the effort to restore the Great Lakes.

"This new report illustrates how important Farm Bill conservation programs are to Great Lakes farmers, water quality and wildlife," said Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters - Great Lakes Coalition, which issued the report.

"Our message to Congress is simple - expand and fund Farm Bill conservation programs that are essential to our Great Lakes, our economy and our quality of life," he said.

The report, "Cultivating Restoration: How Farm Bill Conservation Programs Help Heal Our Great Lakes," comes as the U.S. Congress considers renewing the Farm Bill which sets national conservation funding priorities for the next five years.

The U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees, chaired by Congressman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, are responsible for preparing the new Farm Bill.

Farm Bill programs provide farmers with funding and technical assistance to restore and protect wildlife habitat, which supports the Great Lakes regional hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching industry, worth $18 billion annually.

The programs also restore wetlands and other habitat that serves to filter pesticides, fertilizers and sediment out of water that millions of Great Lakes residents depend on for drinking, bathing, fishing and swimming.

The Farm Bill's Wetland Reserve Program is the country's largest wetland restoration program, having enrolled more than 300,000 acres in Great Lakes states since the program's inception.

The number of acres enrolled nationally in Farm Bill conservation programs is larger than the entire acreage of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge System in the lower 48 states.

Yet more than 1,000 Great Lakes farmers who want to enroll over 117,000 acres in the Wetland Reserve Program are turned away every year due to lack of funding.

Nationally, three of four farmers who want to participate in the programs cannot due to insufficient Congressional funding, the coalition's report finds.

"These are successful programs that historically have not been able to meet the demand of farmers who want to participate, which is why we are urging Congress to expand and fund these powerful conservation programs," said Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited's Great Lakes office.

"We're counting on Congress to come through with a solid Farm Bill that supports a healthy agricultural economy, strong outdoor heritage and restored Great Lakes," Tori said.

To read the report, visit: http://www.healthylakes.org.

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Environmental Defense Encourages Catch Share Fisheries

NEW YORK, New York, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - A study by the conservation group Environmental Defense supports "catch shares," also called Limited Access Privilege Programs, for individual fishermen, communities or associations.

Catch shares work by allocating a dedicated percentage share of a fishery's total catch to such stakeholders, in contrast with the more usual catch as catch can system.

The report suggests this management method saves fish stocks and helps restore fishing communities by offering environmental, economic and social benefits.

"If a fishery is well managed, the value of these shares increases as the stock expands," said Environmental Defense in its report. "When participants have a secure portion of the catch, they gain the flexibility to make business decisions that improve safety, increase profits and promote healthy fishing stocks."

The problem is that an estimated 90 percent of large predatory fish have vanished. Of 230 fisheries assessed by U.S. government agencies, 54 stocks are classified as over-fished, 45 stocks are experiencing overfishing, and just over half of the nation's stocks are in uncertain status.

For the Environmental Defense study, entitled "Sustaining America's Fisheries and Fishing Communities," a team of over 30 scientists, economists, fishery specialists and other experts collected data on nearly 100 fisheries and analyzed over 150 peer reviewed studies.

This is largest such study since the U.S. Congress lifted the moratorium on catch shares five years ago. It showed that bycatch was reduced by nearly half, per-boat revenues increased by 80 percent, and safety was doubled in fisheries with catch share systems.

"Catch shares are the missing piece in the puzzle to restore our fisheries and fishing communities," said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. "For the first time, this comprehensive study provides the hard data that shows how catch shares can improve the performance of fisheries at lower cost to fishermen and greater benefit to the overall ecosystem."

"This comprehensive analysis shows that LAPPs can be a pivotal tool in preserving fishing stocks," said Barry Gold, the marine conservation initiative leader at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which funded the report. "When designed with local objectives in mind, these systems not only help create sustainable fishing practices, they can also help restore fishing communities."

"The biggest thing catch shares do is end the race for fish," said David Krebs, a Gulf red snapper fisherman. "We used to go out in dangerous conditions, regardless of the cost of fuel or what price we'd get for our fish. Now our jobs are safer and we can deliver a higher quality product."

"Fisheries have continued to decline despite decades of trying to manage these resources," said Steve Gaines, director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "As these data show, this doesn't have to be the reality."

"Faced with reduced landings and fragile waterfront economies, California's fishing families and their communities are going through profound change," said Congresswoman Lois Capps, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

"To preserve the economy and heritage of special places like Morro Bay, we should give fishermen tools that enhance their economic vitality, advance sustainable fishing practices and protect fish populations for future generations," she said.

To view the report, visit www.sustainingfisheries.com.

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San Francisco First U.S. City to Ban Plastic Grocery Bags

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a ban on plastic grocery bags in a controversial decision supported by environmentalists and opposed by a supermarket trade association.

If Mayor Gavin Newsom signs the ban as expected, San Francisco would be the first U.S. city to adopt a plastic bag ban.

Passed by a 10-1 vote, the law would require large markets and drug stores to give customers a choice among bags made of recyclable paper, plastic made from cornstarch that breaks down into compost, or reusable cloth. Plastic bags are made from petroleum.

The bags blow into trees and waterways, choke animals and birds and take up increasingly large amounts of space in landfills and are difficult to recycle.

The landmark ordinance mirrors similar anti-plastic measures taken around the world, from Australia to Ireland to Bangladesh.

The 50 San Francisco grocery stores that would be most affected argue that the ban on petroleum-based plastic bags is not reasonable because plastic bags made of cornstarch are new, expensive and untested. Some said they might offer only paper bags at their checkout stations, which would require more trees to be cut.

The California Grocers Association has resisted the change. Two years ago, San Francisco agreed not to levy a 17 cent tax on plastic bags if supermarkets would agree to cut the number of plastic bags it used by 10 million each year.

The grocers' association claimed it reduced the number of plastic bags by 7.6 million in 2006 - a number that fell short of the target and appeared unreliable because of the way the data was gathered.

"We can take steps to make our economy a little more soulful in San Francisco," the ordinance's chief sponsor, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told reporters after the vote. "We can't sleepwalk into the future. The end of the era of cheap oil is here."

San Francisco uses an estimated 180 million plastic bags each year. California as a whole uses more than 19 million plastic bags annually, more than 500 bags per resident per year. Worldwide, between four and five trillion plastic bags are used annually.

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Meadowlands Commission Addresses Rail-side Waste Operations

LYNDHURST, New Jersey, March 29, 2007 (ENS) The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, NJMC, has begun drafting a special report on the spread of solid waste operations along rail lines.

In addition, Chairwoman Susan Bass Levin has directed the commission to assist Congress in clarifying the legal status of railside waste operations.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is the state planning and zoning authority in the Meadowlands District. The 30.4 square mile District located five miles west of New York City in northern New Jersey encompasses portions of 14 municipalities in two counties.

Once used as a giant garbage dump, the District has recovered under careful management. It is now inhabited by more than 265 different species of birds and is recognized as a major migratory fly-over and resting preserve. Shellfish and finfish have returned in abundance.

The Meadowlands Commission report will review rail-side waste operations, some of which attempt to use their proximity to railroad tracks to claim federal immunity from state environmental protections that apply to all solid waste processing operations.

"In partnership with the entire Meadowlands community and fellow state agencies, we are united in our effort to keep the days of unregulated waste processing in the past and ensure that the environment is protected from these rail-side waste operations," said Levin.

"Giant two-story piles of garbage that sat out on the ground, in one case on an apparently illegally filled wetland, cannot be allowed to come back," she said. "Basic issues such as fire suppression and respect for the International Building Code must be observed."

"It took us decades to change the Meadowlands from the garbage dump it was into the recovering ecosystem that it is today," said Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan. "After all that we've done, I'm not going to sit back and watch the river be dragged back to the dirty days of yore."

"The Meadowlands and the Hudson-Raritan Estuary has been pulled back from the edge of destruction by the engaged and informed public," said New York New Jersey Baykeeper Andrew Willner. "Baykeeper supports the efforts of state and federal lawmakers to protect our last and largest urban wilderness."

The report will be presented to the Meadowlands Board of Commissioners, and given to members of the U.S. Senate and Congress to help clarify federal law with regard to a state's right to regulate solid waste.

U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., both of New Jersey, reintroduced legislation on February 28 in both houses of Congress to recognize states' traditional right to regulate solid waste. The bills have been referred to their respective committees.

In the Meadowlands, the NJMC and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have filed suit against waste processor Westside Transload and Connecticut-based hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management LLC on the grounds that a pending facility at 43rd Street in North Bergen is subject to state regulation required for solid waste transfer stations.