AmeriScan: May 4, 2005

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U.S. Greenhouse Gases Rise More Slowly Than Growth

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. greenhouse gas emissions grew 13 percent over the 13 years from 1990 to 2003, a period during which the U.S. economy grew by 46 percent, according to a report to the United Nations submitted by the State Department on April 27.

Total U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases were 6,900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2003, said the report, an inventory produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of greenhouse gases in the United States that are directly attributable to human activities.

The major finding in the 2005 report is that emissions increased by 0.6 percent from 2002 to 2003, even though 2003 emission levels stayed below 2000 levels.

According to the EPA, the increase was due mainly to moderate economic growth in 2003, which increased demand for electricity and fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel combustion was the largest source of U.S. emissions, accounting for 80 percent of total emissions.

“The drivers in the United States tend to be things like electricity generation and the weather from year to year,” said EPA environmental engineer Lief Hockstad. “As the economy grows there’s a greater demand for electricity generation, for example, and a greater demand for fossil fuels."

“It’s not precise,” the EPA engineer said. “The economy and emissions don’t grow at the same level, but the more demand there is for fossil fuel, the higher emissions will be.”

The six main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). They trap heat radiating out from the Earth’s surface and warm the Earth’s atmosphere.

Hockstad said the United States and 41 other developed countries produce such annual reports for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The annual report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2003, includes emissions and sinks – places in the environment where greenhouse gases collect. The inventory gives information about greenhouse gases, quantifies how much of each gas was emitted into the atmosphere and describes some of their environmental effects.

Inventories are submitted in April and UNFCCC teams of inventory experts review the submissions each fall,” Hockstad said.

Under the direction of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of several thousand experts from 120 countries, hundreds of scientists and national experts collaborated to develop these methods and guidelines to help countries create inventories that are comparable across international borders.

All 185 UNFCCC signatory countries must develop and submit inventories, he said, but developing countries are subject to varying schedules for completing this task, generally along some multiple-year cycle.

“The U.N. tracks greenhouse gas emission levels for all these countries, then aggregates the numbers and produces their own report,” Hockstad said. “They have inventory experts around the world review the inventories and give feedback to the [submitting] countries.”

The Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2003 is available on the EPA’s website.

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Planned ChevronTexaco LNG Terminal Hit With NAFTA Challenge

MONTREAL, Canada, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. and Mexican conservation organizations Tuesday filed a formal petition with an international environmental commission to challenge a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal in Baja California, Mexico that threatens an island of endangered seabirds.

ChevronTexaco has proposed to build the gas terminal less than 700 yards from the Coronado Islands of Baja California, 11 miles south of the U.S. border.

“ChevronTexaco’s proposed terminal is an energy maquiladora that will pump natural gas to the United States while avoiding U.S. environmental laws and imperiling Mexico and its wildlife,” said Arturo Moreno, Energy and Climate Change Program Coordinator of Greenpeace Mexico.

Environmentalists are petitioning to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to intervene. This commission, based in Montreal, was created by the environmental side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to prevent the movement of polluting industries to areas where environmental and health and safety laws were not enforced.

The CEC provides a process for a citizen of any of the three NAFTA countries - Canada, Mexico and the United States - to challenge the failure of a country to enforce its environmental laws.

Under this provision, known as Article 14, the petitioners challenge Mexico’s failure to enforce its environmental laws in approving the ChevronTexaco project.

“ChevronTexaco could not have picked a worse location,” said Brendan Cummings, Marine Program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Coronado Islands are a biodiversity hotspot, with 10 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Six threatened or endangered bird species nest there, and the islands also include the largest nesting area for the rare Xantus’s murrelet.”

The Xantus's murrelet, Synthliboramphus hypoleucus, nests on a handful of islands off Baja and southern California and can be found in coastal waters as far north as Canada.

The 10 inch-long, black and white seabird uses its wings to move underwater as it searches for food. This murrelet is listed as endangered under Mexican law and is designated as a candidate species for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The murrelets and other seabirds of the Coronado Islands would be harmed by the operations of the ChevronTexaco LNG terminal, the petitioners allege. Of particular concern is the impact from the lights connected with the terminal on five nocturnal seabird species on the Coronado islands, including the Xantus’s murrelet.

“Nocturnal birds are attracted to lights like moths to a flame, and the result can be just as devastating,” said Shaye Wolf, a Xantus’s murrelet expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“When lights are added to these normally dark islands, murrelets are injured or killed when they fly into lighted structures and when chicks are separated from their parents. I have seen the light from a single bulb lure a murrelet chick away from its parents, which can lead to its starvation and death. The effects from all of the Chevron LNG terminal’s lights would be absolutely devastating for the murrelets.”

ChevronTexaco’s environmental assessment of the proposed terminal did not address the light pollution issue, as well as other wildlife impacts.

Mexican environmentalists asked the Secretary of the Environment to review the environmental assessment in light of the omissions as well as what they claim are legal irregularities in the permit approval process.

The Secretary refused to delay the project during the review unless the groups put up a US$6.4 million bond for ChevronTexaco.

When the groups turned to the Mexican courts to challenge this prohibitive sum, two federal judges declared themselves “not competent” to rule on the issue. The Mexican government granted ChevronTexaco permits for the project although no review has been done.

“The rule of law is not being applied in Mexico,” said Alfonso Aguirre, a conservation leader in Baja California. “That has been clearly demonstrated throughout this whole process.”

“If the Commission for Environmental Cooperation does not prevent such a blatant example of a project that has fled across a border to avoid environmental laws, I don’t know what purpose it fulfills other than to greenwash environmentally destructive free trade,” said Jay Tutchton, director of the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinical Partnership, which prepared the petition.

The petitioners include the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace Mexico, Alfonso Aguirre, Shaye Wolf, American Bird Conservancy, Los Angeles Audubon, Pacific Environment, and WiLDCOAST. For more information, visit: www.biologicaldiversity.org.

ChevronTexaco anticipates that construction of Terminal GNL Mar Adentro de Baja California will begin this year. Commercial operations could begin as soon as 2008, the company said.

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Idaho Closes Lower Snake River Salmon Season

BOISE, Idaho, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - Salmon are not returning to the Snake River in numbers that will permit fishing, Idaho fisheries scientists have determined. With a run size that is coming in at less than 50 percent of the preseason forecast, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is closing the Lower Snake River salmon season as of today.

The closed stretch of the Snake runs from the Southway Bridge upstream to the Heller Bar concrete boat ramp. The closure is effective at the end of chinook fishing hours today.

Although biologists are still trying to determine this season's run size, it is apparent that the preseason forecast expectations will not be met in the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"With the run size lagging considerably behind preseason expectation, we have concerns about the multiple stocks that could be intercepted in this fishery, which will be returning at a considerably lower run size than anticipated," said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fishery manager with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Adronomous fish such as salmon are hatched in inland streams and head to the open ocean as young fish. When they are ready to spawn, they return to the same streams where they were originally hatched.

To minimize the impact recreational fishing might have on naturally produced wild salmon, Fish and Game will focus on tributary fisheries which target hatchery stocks.

Seasons will remain open on the Snake River upstream from Dug Bar, the Clearwater drainage, the lower Salmon River and the Little Salmon River. The department will continue to monitor fish counts to determine whether further adjustments should be made to those seasons.

Environmental groups have for years unsuccessfully called for the breaching of four federal hydropower dams on the Lower Snake River to protect the salmon.

Dams block salmon migration up and down river. Juvenile salmon die in the still water reservoirs formed on the upstream side of the dams due to the lack of downstream current needed to move them to the ocean.

In 1995, when Idaho Rivers United became the first group in the nation to call for breaching the four lower Snake dams, four species of Snake River salmon and steelhead were listed under the Endangered Species Act, and dam breaching was considered a radical idea. By 2000, eight additional stocks of Columbia basin fish runs had been listed for federal protection, and dam breaching had moved to the forefront of the salmon debate.

Of the Clinton Administration salmon recovery plan offered in 2000 that left the dams in place, Idaho Rivers United conservation scientist Scott Bosse said at the time, "the plan offers virtually no chance of offsetting the lethal impacts of the federal hydrosystem, which is allowed to continue to kill up to 90 percent of juvenile salmon."

Over 200 scientists from across the nation made a last minute appeal to President Bill Clinton in December 2000 to direct the National Marine Fisheries Service to strengthen its final Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan by planning to breach the lower Snake River dams if other recovery measures fail. The appeal came in a signed letter to the President from 217 federal, state, tribal, university and independent scientists from 27 states.

Instead, fisheries managers tried increasing flows in spawning streams and in the mainstem Snake and Columbia Rivers, rehabilitating degraded streams, restoring the Columbia River estuary, reducing bird and marine mammal predation, altering hatchery practices, and reducing tribal and non-tribal fishing.

Then in November 2004, after three years of slightly improved salmon runs, the Bush administration issued its own salmon plan that left the dams in place. The federal agencies maintained that the operation of the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers do not jeopardize the survival of salmon and steelhead.

"This plan has gone from bad to worse," said John Kober of the National Wildlife Federation when the Bush plan was released. "Instead of ensuring that we will see long-term salmon recovery and abundance, it jeopardizes whether we will have salmon at all."

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Public Comments Welcome on Rocky Mtn. Front Conservation Area

WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued the Environmental Assessment and accompanying Land Protection Plan for the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area. The EA and Plan outline the actions necessary to establish the area and analyzes the environmental effects of those actions.

The project boundary for the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area encompasses 918,000 acres of land on the eastern side of the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. To establish the Conservation Area, the Service would strategically acquire perpetual conservation easements from willing sellers on 170,000 acres of private land between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the South Fork of the Dearborn River.

The purpose of the project is to create and maintain a significant, intact block of important wildlife habitat between existing protected areas, including State Wildlife Management Areas, The Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Swamp Preserve and the Boone & Crockett Club's Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch.

The Service says that protecting a large, continuous corridor of wildlife habitat along the Front will achieve the dual goal of conserving native wildlife while supporting traditional economic activities.

"The Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area will protect for future generations a living legacy of wildlife while underscoring the importance of private lands in large-scale conservation efforts," said Ralph Morgenweck, regional director of the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. "The Service places great value on our public and private partnerships on the Front, without which we could not achieve the long-term protection of this truly remarkable landscape."

The Front is inhabited by nearly every wildlife species described by Lewis and Clark in 1806, with the exception of free-ranging bison. Many of these species occur in relatively stable or increasing numbers.

Private lands along the Front include streamside corridors, wetland complexes and upland habitat for grizzly bears, trumpeter swans, raptors and other migratory birds.

The Environmental Assessment is online at http://bentonlake.fws.gov. Written comments are welcome no later than May 27, 2005 to: Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge Complex: 922 Bootlegger Trail, Great Falls, MT, 59404; telephone (406) 727-7400; Email: david_gillund@fws.gov

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Petition Seeks Endangered Status for Native Colorado Wildflower

DENVER, Colorado, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - A rare plant - the DeBeque phacelia - is threatened with extinction by oil and gas drilling in the Roan Plateau-South Shale Ridge area of western Colorado, according to a formal petition filed by conservation groups seeking status for the plant under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Native Ecosystems, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and botanist Steve O’Kane, who is an expert on this plant, filed the petition last week.

It is the second petition filed in the past two weeks by the groups on behalf of native wildflowers threatened by Western oil and gas development. On April 25, the Center for Native Ecosystems and the Utah Native Plant Society filed a formal emergency listing petition seeking immediate protection for a cactus wildflower that is found only near Pariette, Utah.

Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has considered the DeBeque phacelia a candidate for listing for 25 years, the agency has taken no action to protect the plant, the petitioners say.

“This rare wildflower is quickly heading for extinction,” said Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems Policy director. “Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been sitting on its hands for 25 years. It is high time for the Service to protect this native.”

The DeBeque phacelia grows only on the adobe hills around the town of DeBeque southwest of the top of the Roan Plateau, a range of less than 220 square miles. Nearly all of its occupied habitat is leased by the Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas drilling and faces increasing pressure from dirt bikes and other ATVs, road and pipeline construction, and potential oil shale mining.

The Roan Plateau has been a magnet for controversy over the past year as the Bureau of Land Management continues to push hard to open up the area to oil and gas drilling over the objections of local governments, local residents, hunters, and conservationists.

This month the Bureau of Land Management proposed new oil and gas leasing in South Shale Ridge, reviving old worries over its future as well.

"We strongly support efforts to increase protection for DeBeque phacelia due to the potential for habitat degradation, fragmentation, and population decline resulting from energy development and other impacts," said Laurel Potts, president of the Colorado Native Plant Society.

Industry insiders forecast 10,000 new wells for Garfield County in the coming decades, more than are found in Saudi Arabia and Iran combined.

In light of this impending drilling pressure, every local government in Garfield County has endorsed a conservation plan that would protect the top of the Roan Plateau while allowing responsible drilling around the base, which would protect rare wildflowers like the DeBeque phacelia.

This native plant's precarious status is well known. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program classifies the plant as "imperiled" and at risk of extinction, and the Forest Service considers the DeBeque milkvetch a "sensitive species" but so far has not taken the step of protecting the plant or its habitat.

The Bureau of Land Management claims to survey for the plant when new gas pipelines and other projects are proposed but still allows oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle riding, and livestock grazing nearly everywhere this wildflower grows.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service, the BLM, and the Forest Service all acknowledge that the DeBeque phacelia is at risk of extinction but have done little to protect it," said Pollock. "Extinction is not sound stewardship."

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Electronic Tag Transmits White Shark Secrets to Scientists

MONTEREY BAY, California, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - An electronic tag on a young white shark released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium popped free over the weekend and is transmitting data via satellite that will detail the shark's movements in the wild since March 31.

The first signals from the data tag arrived April 30 after it popped free on schedule, about 25 miles west of Point Conception in Santa Barbara County - more than 200 miles south of her release point near Point Pinos in Monterey County.

Details of where she traveled, including the water temperatures and depths she favored, will emerge over the next few weeks as the tag continues sending data back to researchers at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University - the aquarium's lead partner in the tagging project.

"It's very good news that the tag came free on schedule," said Randy Hamilton, vice president of husbandry for the aquarium. "We'll have to wait a while longer to learn exactly where she's been, but from all indications she's doing fine back in the wild."

The tag was programmed to separate from the shark either 30 days after she was put back in the ocean, or if she had stopped moving for a three day period - a likely sign that she had died.

The shark was caught inadvertently by a commercial halibut fisherman in waters off Huntington Beach on August 20, 2004. She was held in a four million gallon ocean pen off Malibu for three weeks before she was brought to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on September 14.

At the aquarium, nearly one million visitors saw her and learned more about shark conservation issues in conversations with staff and volunteer guides; through a question-and-answer auditorium program devoted to the white shark project; in other exhibits that address shark conservation; and through exhibit graphics addressing the threats facing white sharks.

The young shark spent a record 198 days at the aquarium before her release on March 31. During her time at the aquarium, she grew from a length of five feet and a weight of 62 pounds to a length at release of six feet four and a half inches and a weight of 162 pounds.

The timing of her release was prompted in part by concerns that she had grown to a point that would soon make it more difficult to handle her and safely return her to the ocean, and on observations that she was beginning to hunt other sharks in her multi-species exhibit.

In 50 years of attempts, she is the first white shark to survive more than 16 days at any aquarium, and the first to consistently take food offered by aquarium staff.

The aquarium will begin a fourth field season of white shark research this summer, and will attempt to bring another young shark back to Monterey for exhibit.

The nonprofit aquarium will also expand its field research program, using an additional $500,000 allocated in March for multi-year field conservation studies of white sharks in southern California and Baja California. This brings to $840,000 the amount it has committed to field research aimed at conserving white sharks in the wild.

Key areas of study will involve tagging of juvenile and adult white sharks to learn more about where and when they move in the waters off Baja and southern California, and DNA sampling to learn more about the population of white sharks in the region. All of the studies will involve partnerships with research colleagues.

Through its Center for the Future of the Oceans, the aquarium will also work with other institutions and agencies to help develop the best strategies for white shark conservation policy in California waters, said Dr. Chris Harrold, director of conservation research for the aquarium.

Data now coming back from the tagged shark, and that from six other sharks tagged earlier in the field research program, will contribute to basic understanding of the habitat preferences of juvenile white sharks, said Dr. Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist at the aquarium. The data will be shared with wildlife officials, who can use the information to inform fisheries management decisions involving young white sharks.

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New York City Opens Surfing Beach in Rockaway

ROCKAWAY, New York, May 4, 2005 (ENS) - Waveriders throughout the New York metropolitan area have a newly designated surf-access zone in the Rockaways. The official designation by the New York City Department of Parks took place on Earth Day April 22.

Surfrider Foundation NYC Chapter has worked over the past three years with elected officials and numerous local residents to establish the first legal surfing beach in the City of New York.

The designation followed the overturning of an antiquated State Department of Health Code dating back to 1850 followed by the establishment of a Parks Department guideline allowing public access.

"This is significant victory for the Surfrider Foundation NYC Chapter, but more importantly, this is a monumental step forward for the Rockaway community," said Surfrider Chair Joel Banslaben of the Surf Area designation.

The designation comes as a relief to many surfers. Prior to 2005, surfers and other beachgoers received tickets for surfing, bathing, and simply walking on the beach in the Rockaways. Now local residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy the waves without fear of breaking the law.

This is especially important for local residents who have long been attracted to the area for its accessibility to the ocean.

Local resident Victor Sinansky commented, "The sport of surfing is an integral part of both the community and the economy. Over the past 50 years the Rockaway community has been a hard working class community. Many of these residents choose the Rockaways as their home, for easy accessibility to surfing, fishing, scuba diving and boating. However, Rockaway is unique, in that it... is the only ocean front in New York City."

Banslaben said, "The Rockaways are finally receiving the recognition they have long deserved as a top-tier coastal community. The Surfrider Foundation NYC Chapter will continue its partnership with local residents and officials to ensure the highest quality of environmental resources possible."

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