AmeriScan: May 16, 2002
New Whistleblower Law Holds Agencies AccountableWASHINGTON, DC,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Legislation signed Wednesday will require federal agencies to pay for settlements in whistleblower cases out of their own budgets.
The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (HR 169, the No FEAR Act) is aimed at providing additional incentives for federal agencies to discourage discrimination against employees who report or publicize wrongdoing by their employers.
"This is a piece of civil rights legislation that increases government accountability by requiring federal agencies to pay from their own budget for settlements or judgments resulting from discrimination cases," White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said Wednesday. "It also requires employees to be notified of their rights under all discrimination laws, and it enforces the agencies to report to the Congress information pertaining to civil rights abuses."
The impetus for the bill was a August 2000 jury decision finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had discriminated against Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a senior social scientist, and awarded that scientist $600,000. An investigation by the House Science Committee "found a disturbing pattern of intolerance, harassment, discrimination and retaliation at the Environmental Protection Agency," the House Committee on the Judiciary noted in a release about the bill.
Passage of the bill "means now the federal government will have to obey its own laws," Coleman-Adebayo said Wednesday.
By requiring agencies to pay for court settlements or judgments for discrimination and retaliation cases out of their working budgets, instead of allowing the agency to use a general, government wide fund, the bill may make agencies more accountable for their actions towards whistleblowers, supporters say.
In May 2001, a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that federal agencies do not track complaints, whistleblower cases or their costs, making it hard to determine if an agency has a pattern of misconduct.
The bipartisan No FEAR Act was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, and Representative Connie Morella, a Maryland Republican.
"No longer will discrimination and retaliation be swept under the rug and considered an inconvenience for working at a federal agency," said Sensenbrenner. "By holding accountable those who insist upon discriminating against others, the federal government will become a role model for civil rights - and not civil rights violations."
Enviro Group Report Rebuts Federal Fire PoliciesWASHINGTON, DC,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has issued a report aimed at refuting the federal stance on wildfire prevention, fire fighting tactics, and post-fire recovery.
As high temperatures and dry conditions begin to make their annual summer appearance, Americans can learn more about protecting their homes, defusing fire threats and restoring forest health by checking out the report "Forest Fires: Beyond the Heat and Hype" at: http://www.sierraclub.org/logging
The report charges that the policies of the federal government and the logging industry have increased the risk of catastrophic wild fires, and details steps the nation can take to protect communities and restore fire's natural role in forests.
"With a few wildfires already burning in the American west and drought conditions in the Southwest and Southeast, the fire season, and timber industry rhetoric, will surely heat up," said Sean Cosgrove, Sierra Club forest policy specialist. "We hope Americans see the industry's smokescreen for what it is: an attempt to use wildfires as an excuse to increase the destructive commercial logging on our National Forests, especially the roadless areas the Bush administration has failed to protect."
The report includes a list of 10 steps homeowners can take to make homes firesafe, including:
"Decades of misguided policies by the government and logging industry have changed healthy forests and increased the severity of forest fires," said Cosgrove. "But by using controlled burns, we can reduce brush that has built up from decades of fire suppression. By taking common sense measures, we can help homeowners keep their families safe."
The report is available at: http://www.sierraclub.org/logging
Carbon Sinks Cannot Keep Up With EmissionsDURHAM, North Carolina,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Carbon absorption by natural ecosystems may no longer be able to keep up with humanmade carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a new study warns.
The study, which appears in today's issue of the journal "Nature," suggests that natural carbon absorption into what are sometimes called "carbon sinks" is about to fall short of what is needed to counteract the rise in atmospheric CO2 due to fossil fuel burning and loss of forest.
A study of the reaction of a Texas grassland to a range of CO2 levels showed that the availability of nitrogen, a plant nutrient, in soil may limit the capacity of ecosystems to absorb increases in atmospheric CO2. The researchers said their study emphasizes the urgency with which the U.S. and other nations should adopt strict limits on CO2 emissions, as outlined in the international Kyoto accord on climate change.
"Based on fossil fuel emissions, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere should be going up twice as fast as it currently is," said Duke University ecologist Robert Jackson, an author of the study. "However, natural systems such as the regrowing Eastern forests are currently taking up that extra carbon dioxide, so we're really getting a free ride now."
"Many of us, myself included, believe that this free ride won't continue to the same extent that it has, because the incremental benefits of the extra CO2 get smaller and smaller relative to other nutrient constraints," Jackson added.
The researchers enclosed a large section of north Texas prairie in two plastic covered chambers, and exposed the grassland to varying concentrations of CO2. Over several growing seasons, the scientists conducted detailed biochemical and biological analyses of the grass plants and the soil, and measured how the species composition of the plant community changed.
"We found that many of the plants' physiological processes responded fairly linearly to increases in carbon dioxide, and plant production went up," said Jackson. "However, production and soil carbon storage basically saturated above 400 parts per million, a CO2 concentration very close to the current one."
The team found that as CO2 concentrations rose, the plants used up much of the soil nitrogen, which limited further growth and further CO2 absorption.
"Considering the expected population increase, greater resource use per capita and the inability of natural systems to take up CO2, we may well be looking at increases per year that are double what they are now, with atmospheric CO2 concentrations as high as 800 parts per million in this century," Jackson concluded. "This means that the current lack of interest by the U.S. in participating in the Kyoto accords is especially unfortunate."
Agreement Accelerates Oak Ridge CleanupOAK RIDGE, Tennessee,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Two federal agencies and the state of Tennessee have signed an agreement to accelerate cleanup of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge nuclear laboratory.
The DOE, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tennessee officials signed a Letter of Intent to complete cleanup operations at Oak Ridge by 2016, with high risk cleanup slated to be finished by 2008.
"This pact provides the framework necessary to accelerate cleanup and it is a major step to effectively reduce health risks and expedite the environmental cleanup of the Oak Ridge nuclear sites," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
The DOE is setting aside $105 million under the Cleanup Reform Account for Oak Ridge, boosting the total Oak Ridge environmental management budget to about $520 million in fiscal year (FY) 2003.
Previous appropriated funding levels for the Oak Ridge Site were $448 million in FY 2001 and $480 million in FY 2002.
The parties to the agreement will use results of the Oak Ridge Comprehensive Closure Plan, which focuses on strategies for accelerating cleanup and closure of the East Tennessee Technology Park, the Melton Valley Watershed and the further development of a comprehensive sitewide waste disposition strategy.
Among the cleanup challenges will be the complete decontamination and decommissioning of the East Tennessee Technology Park at Oak Ridge, the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the cleanup of a groundwater plume of volatile organic compounds beneath Oak Ridge's Y-12 facility.
The DOE plans to develop a set of specific progress goals by June 14.
"Accelerated cleanup agreements will accomplish results in a manner that is safe, protective of human health and the environment, and in compliance with state and federal environmental laws," Abraham said. "The Oak Ridge pact is a framework for all Department sites to follow in moving toward an accelerated cleanup plan because it provides the necessary level of detail and criteria to reach a commitment to faster, safer cleanup."
This is the second agreement reached under the DOE's new Environmental Management Accelerated Cleanup Program, whose goal is to streamline operations by working with states and regulators to target and reduce the greatest health and environmental cleanup risks at the country's Cold War nuclear weapons production facilities.
Rio Grande Flows Spiked to Boost Minnow SpawningALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Five government agencies in New Mexico agreed last week to temporarily increase flows in the Rio Grande in hopes of encouraging the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn.
On Monday and Tuesday, the flow in the Rio Grande was spiked several times with an extra 4,000 acre feet of water, thanks to the agreement by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, city of Albuquerque, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The extra water comes from Abiquiu Reservoir and was made available under the Conservation Water Agreement between the state of New Mexico and the United States of America. The three year agreement, written in June of 2001, provides water from a conservation pool to augment natural Rio Grande flows.
To create the spike flows, the Conservancy District used its canals and drains to send the water downstream, creating temporary muddy river conditions that the minnow seems to prefer for spawning.
When minnows spawn, the majority of their eggs are released over a brief, 48 hour period. As minnow eggs incubate, they can float as far as 200 miles downstream.
Biologists with the agencies are monitoring the Rio Grande near San Marcial, some 40 miles downstream from San Acacia. There they will capture the minnow eggs for transfer to facilities where the wild born eggs can be used to enhance captive breeding efforts.
The Rio Grande silvery minnow, once one of the most abundant and widespread of the desert fishes in the Rio Grande Basin, is a native fish first listed as endangered in 1994. The minnow once ranged from Espanola, New Mexico, to the Gulf of Mexico, and was found in the Pecos River from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, downstream to its confluence with the Rio Grande.
The silvery minnow has vanished from the Pecos River, and from the Rio Grande downstream of Elephant Butte Reservoir and upstream of Cochiti Reservoir.
Petroleum Company Fined for Washington SpillOLYMPIA, Washington,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - Associated Petroleum Products, Inc. has agreed to spend $47,000 to settle environmental violations stemming from a January 2001 oil spill.
The company spilled almost 500 gallons of fuel oil near Eatonville, Washington when employees over-filled a storage tank at its fuel depot in Eatonville. Officials from the state Department of Ecology (Ecology) said the company made a series of mistakes that contributed to the magnitude of the spill.
"Our investigation found a string of negligence that led to the spill," said Doug Stolz, a spill responder for Ecology.
The first of the mistakes occurred when the Eatonville facility called its dispatch center to reduce the volume of the initial order from 10,000 to 9,000 gallons, because the tank to be filled was too full to hold a whole load. That crucial change was made to the wrong order, a similar load going to Enumclaw rather than Eatonville, Stolz said.
Additional errors followed. The driver failed to notice handwritten changes about the expected delivery volume that were made to back up paperwork at the facility. He also was slow to notice that fuel was spilling when the tank was overfilled.
A valve was left open, allowing fuel to leave a containment area on the site, which also went unnoticed. The company failed to immediately report the spill, as required by state law, preventing a rapid cleanup effort.
Ecology learned about the incident from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had been notified by the local fire and police staff.
An estimated 200 gallons of the spill went into a tributary of Lynch Creek. Some of the oil also may have reached Lynch Creek by way of the tributary, but "that evidence had washed away by the time we arrived because the company took so long to notify us," Stolz said.
Although fuel oil is toxic to aquatic life, no dead fish were observed.
Under the settlement, the firm will pay the state $14,000, and will spend another $30,000 to buy and install electronic overfill alarms on the tanks at its Eatonville facility to help prevent similar accidents in the future. Associated Petroleum will also provide training to its employees on how to handle fuel spills.
"This was our first major incident in 30 years. Since the spill, we have taken additional measures to prevent this from ever happening again," said Luke Xitco, the company's general manager. "We admit we made mistakes, particularly in failing to notify the Department of Ecology in time, but we made all possible efforts to contain and clean up the spill, and hired a professional cleanup firm for recovering the oil from the tributary."
$5.5 Million Available for Coral ConservationWASHINGTON, DC,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking proposals for coral reef conservation projects in the U.S. and around the world.
About $5.5 million, including $5.15 million from NOAA and $350,000 from the Department of Interior, may be available through NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Grant Program, as authorized by the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000.
"Providing grant funds to state and local entities to conserve coral reefs is an essential part of the federal government's overall strategy to protect and restore these precious marine resources," said Margaret Davidson, assistant administrator for NOAA's Ocean Service.
Grants area available for coral reef management and monitoring in U.S. states and territories, for research into new monitoring technologies and coral reef fishery management plans, for general coral reef conservation in U.S. waters and for international coral reef conservation.
The federal funds provided may not exceed 50 percent of the total cost for each project. NOAA may, however, waive all or part of the matching requirement under special circumstances.
"Coral reefs provide economic services to millions of people as areas of natural beauty and recreation, sources of food, pharmaceuticals, shoreline protection, jobs, and revenue," said Davidson. "Over 25 percent of the worlds coral reefs have already been lost to pollution and siltation, ship groundings, destructive fishing practices including over fishing, and climate change. NOAA is committed to helping solve the coral reef crisis."
The grant program is part of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program designed to protect and restore the nation's coral reefs, and assist international conservation of reef ecosystems. The program includes efforts to monitor and assess coral health, map coral reef ecosystems, conduct research into the biological, social and economic factors which effect coral reefs, build partnerships to reduce the effects of fishing, coastal development and pollution, and identify coral reef areas for special protection.
More information on the grant program is available at: http://www.coralreef.noaa.gov/
Critical Habitat Proposed for Hawaiian PlantsHONOLULU, Hawaii,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed critical habitat for five endangered Hawaiian plant species on three northwestern Hawaiian islands.
All three islands - Nihoa, Necker and Laysan - are within the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the USFWS.
Three of the endangered plant species - Amaranthus brownii, Pritchardia remota or loulu, and Schiedea verticillata - are found only on these small islands. The other two - Mariscus pennatiformis and Sesbania tomentosa - are also found on one or more of the main Hawaiian islands.
If approved, the proposed critical habitat rule would primarily affect the USFWS as manager of the refuge. Access to these islands is already restricted, both by requirements for permits from the managing agency and by their very remoteness.
"Although our efforts in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge are definitely aimed toward protecting and recovering endangered species, we believe critical habitat designation on our own lands will be beneficial," said Anne Badgley, Pacific regional director for the USFWS. "The Service would take another look at proposed projects within designated critical habitat to ensure not only that these threatened and endangered plant species are not jeopardized, but also that the habitat that could support them is protected, even if the species are not currently present."
Under the Endangered Species Act, a critical habitat designation identifies geographic areas that are considered essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, whether the species is currently found in the area or not. Critical habitat designations can help protect a species' historic range, giving the species room to expand as it recovers.
The five plants and their habitat are threatened by competition for scarce resources by nonnative plants, predation by mice and nonnative insects, fire and human disturbance. Their small populations are also at increased risk of extinction from natural events such as winter storms.
Indiana Animal Controls Called InhumaneINDIANAPOLIS, Indiana,
May 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Fund for Animals is asking Indiana to address what the animal rights groups calls the state's "inadequate regulations" regarding so called nuisance wildlife.
The increasing frequency of human/wildlife conflicts has led to a booming private industry of "nuisance wildlife control operators" (NWCOs). The Fund for Animals, a national animal protection organization with 1,500 members in Indiana, says many of these NWCOs use "cruel and inhumane methods" to remove and to kill skunks, raccoons and squirrels from homes and other areas.
"Right now in the state of Indiana, NWCOs do not have to comply with any sort of humane standards, nor are they required to have any special training or experience to go into business," said Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for The Fund for Animals. "Unsuspecting homeowners may be easily duped into paying for services that do not solve the problem permanently or that result in a 'behind the scenes' death of the animal by drowning or injection with commercial solvents such as acetone - a common way that some NWCOs kill skunks."
The Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife has proposed new rules to govern NWCO operations, "yet we strongly feel they need to go further to provide adequate oversight of this new, fast growing industry," said Simon.
Simon advocates using humane, non-lethal methods that are often less expensive than hiring a NWCO, as does Laura Nirenberg, executive director of the animal protection group Wildlife Orphanage.
"A raccoon can just as easily be evicted instead of paying someone to kill the animal in a cruel and painful body gripping, leghold, or Conibear trap," said Nirenberg. "It is especially important to handle wild animal conflicts carefully this time of year since wild animals in attics and chimneys are usually mothers with babies. When the mothers are taken away, the young can be left behind to starve."
Removing animals does not provide a long term solution to wildlife problems, as neighboring animals will soon fill the vacancies, Nirenberg added. More humane, long term solutions include measures such as chimney caps and one way doors.
The Fund for Animals operates a 24 hour urban wildlife hotline to provide humane solutions to wildlife conflicts free of charge at 203-393-1050 or on its web site at: http://www.fund.org
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