AmeriScan: March 30, 2007

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Court Throws Out Bush Forest Management Regulations

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service can no longer use forest management regulations put in place by the Bush administration in 2005, because they violate three laws, a federal judge in California ruled today.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the U.S. District Court for Northern California, invalidates regulations that changed the land management planning process for national forests by eliminating mandatory protections for wildlife and clean water and removing public participation in the process.

Among the measures discarded by the Bush administration was a key regulatory guarantee of wildlife viability in the national forests that had been in place since the Reagan administration.

"The national forest planning rules are like the Constitution for our National Forests, and the Bush administration tried to throw out the Bill of Rights," said attorney Trent Orr of Earthjustice, who argued the case before Judge Hamilton. "The Bush rule changes made any wildlife provisions in forest management plans purely aspirational, but the nation's wildlife deserve more than a 'hope and a prayer' planning system."

Earthjustice, representing Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and Vermont Natural Resources Council, filed a legal challenge to the Bush administration rule changes in October 2004.

"The Bush administration’s rules would have undone 20 years of protections for wildlife and clean water," said Sierra Club Forest Policy Specialist Sean Cosgrove. "This ruling is a huge victory for all Americans who hunt, fish, and enjoy our National Forests."

Judge Hamilton ruled that the Bush regulations violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act.

"These regulations were designed by a former timber industry lobbyist," Cosgrove said. "They put the timber industry first and citizens and wildlife last. They would have silenced the voices of citizens in local forest planning, and allowed destructive projects to move forward with little oversight."

The judge's ruling prohibits the Bush administration from "implementation and utilization" of the new forest planning regulations. "The court verified what we already knew - that the Bush administration has used every angle possible to undo protections for our wildlife, forests, and clean water," said Cosgrove. "At a time when wildlife face mounting threats, we need to move towards responsible forest management that protects our public lands for future generations instead of giving them away to special interests."

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U.S. to Supply China With Technical Water Quality Assistance

WASHINGTON, DC, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - The United States and China signed an agreement Tuesday to expand a program that provides U.S. technical assistance to improve and protect water quality and access to safe and sustainable water resources in China.

Increasing water conservation and efficiency in China will help reduce energy consumption and air pollution locally and globally, said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles who signed the agreement with his counterpart at China's Ministry of Water Resources.

Under this agreement, EPA will collaborate with China to explore better management solutions through technical assistance to improve the health and accessibility of China's water resources.

The agreement provides a framework for cooperation in integrated river basin watershed management, human-made wetlands, water resources monitoring, and wastewater reuse.

This agreement complements the 2003 agreement between the EPA and China's State Environmental Protection Administration on scientific and technical cooperation on environment. An annex to that agreement sets forth a framework for scientific and technical cooperation between the two countries on water pollution.

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U.S.-Brazil Biofuel Plans Could Hurt Rural Poor

WASHINGTON, DC, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - Plans for the United States and Brazil to cooperate on biofuel may have severe repercussions on millions of poor people who live in rural areas, the international anti-poverty agency, ActionAid, warned today.

On Saturday, Presidents George W. Bush and Lula Da Silva will meet at Camp David to continue discussions on increasing ethanol production and trade.

Under a proposal signed by the presidents in Brazil earlier this month, the fuel would be derived primarily from Brazilian sugarcane sources.

ActionAid is urging the government leaders to take into account that the production of such biofuels has so far resulted in the concentration of land, resources and income in the hands of the few, the destruction of endangered rainforests, contamination of soil, air and water, and the expulsion of rural populations from their homes.

"We're talking about unfair trade-offs. Increasing ethanol production through land grabs, reducing the amount of farmland for food crops, and harming the environment will only serve to increase misery," said Celso Marcatto, food rights coordinator at ActionAid Brazil.

"This headlong rush into biofuel production seems not so different from the push to conclude WTO and other trade pacts no matter what the social or environmental costs," said Karen Hansen-Kuhn, food rights director at ActionAid USA.

"The U.S. government should be thinking through a careful approach to biofuels based on diversified production of a mix of crops, including native grasses. The promotion of local ownership and processing facilities, as well as sustainable agricultural practices, is similarly crucial," said Hansen-Kuhn.

"The benefits of biofuels cannot be achieved at the expenses of increased food shortages, environmental degradation, and poverty. It seems that social and environmental consequences of sugar cane production are not being taken as seriously as they should," worried Marcatto.

ActionAid works with more than 25 million poor and excluded people in 47 countries in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe to support them in securing their rights and eradicating poverty.

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Congress Passes Disaster Relief for Farmers

WASHINGTON, DC, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - National Farmers Union applauded the U.S. Senate today following passage of the fiscal year 2007 Supplemental Appropriations bill.

The House, whose leadership prohibited a vote on disaster aid during the last Congress, approved their version of the supplemental last week.

The legislation includes more than $4 billion in emergency disaster assistance for agricultural producers impacted by devastating weather conditions.

"Producers in virtually every state have been impacted by weather conditions out of their control and I am pleased the Senate recognized the toll these conditions have placed on the countryside," said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis.

"This vote has been a long time coming and I am thrilled that after years of waiting and perseverance both bodies of Congress have passed disaster relief," said Buis.

The legislation still faces other hurdles as it now heads to conference committee and then to the president's desk. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

"I am hopeful disaster assistance will be included in the final conference version of this legislation and President Bush will support rural America and sign the bill," Buis said. "Rural America needs a helping hand, not a veto threat."

NFU is a long-time advocate of disaster assistance for agricultural producers and has led a broad coalition of more than 30 agriculture and rural-related groups on the issue.

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California Seeks $200 Million Worth of Flood Control Projects

SACRAMENTO, California, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - The California Department of Water Resources is now accepting applications from local agencies for flood control construction projects to be financed by Propositions 1E and 84 funds.

Proposition 1E, the Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006, was authorized by voters in November.

The $4.09 billion dollar bond act is intended to use the funds to rebuild and repair California’s most vulnerable flood control structures to protect homes and prevent loss of life from flood-related disasters, including levee failures, flash floods, and mudslides.

The funds are intended for projects that protect California’s drinking water supply system by rebuilding delta levees that are vulnerable to earthquakes and storms.

Proposition 84, also approved on the November ballot, authorizes $5.38 billion for projects relating to safe drinking water, water quality and supply, flood control, waterway and natural resource protection, water pollution and contamination control, state and local park improvements, public access to natural resources, and water conservation efforts.

"There are many important flood risk reduction projects ready to move forward now," said Les Harder, Department of Water Resources deputy director.

The early implementation projects are part of FloodSafe California, a strategic initiative to maximize Proposition 1E and 84 bond funds to reduce flood risk to Californians, develop a sustainable flood management system for the future, and lessen the consequences of floods when they do occur.

"While our long-term bond funding plan is being developed, we are also making $200 million available on an expedited basis for early implementation projects that maximize public safety and reduce state liability," Harder said.

The department is soliciting early implementation project applications for flood control construction projects that rehabilitate, reconstruct, replace, improve or add to the facilities of the State Plan of Flood Control.

The deadline for applications is May 1, 2007. If funding requests exceed $200 million, preference will be given to projects that provide the highest flood protection benefits and demonstrate the highest readiness to proceed.

The application package is online at: http://www.floodsafe.water.ca.gov/.

In an additional effort to improve the safety of California's levees, the Department of Water Resources Friday began conducting low-level helicopter flights over levees from Lathrop to Marysville.

The flights, which will continue all next week, are aerial surveys to electronically gather data to help determine the integrity of 350 miles of urban levees as part of department's levee evaluation program.

Flights will take place along the Feather River, Bear River, American River, Sutter Bypass, Sacramento River, Stanislaus River, San Joaquin River and their tributaries.

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Alabama Promotes Mercury Switch Recovery Program

MONTGOMERY, Alabama, March 30, 2007 (ENS) - The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, ADEM, is making an effort to reduce mercury releases to the environment.

ADEM officials met with automotive recyclers March 20 in Montgomery to review a new, voluntary program to remove mercury switches from vehicles. The program is designed to collect and properly dispose of mercury before the automobiles are crushed or shredded for recycling.

"We are pleased to be involved in this project," said ADEM Director Trey Glenn. "We are making a concerted effort to reach Alabama’s automotive recyclers to educate them on the specifics of this program to help safeguard our environment."

Earlier this month, ADEM mailed more than 440 letters to automotive, steel, and scrap industries to announce the program.

End of Life Vehicle Solutions (ELVS), a non-profit organization established to collect switches and properly dispose of the mercury, will pay recyclers for collecting and turning in the switches.

Many vehicles manufactured prior to 2003 have mercury switches in lighting and antilock braking systems. If the switches are not removed before recycling or the steel melting process, the mercury can be emitted into the air.

To prevent this, the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program was started last August. The program is a collective effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Council of the States, state environmental agencies, automotive steel and scrap industries, and environmental groups. Across the country, the EPA estimates 67 million switches are available for recovery.