AmeriScan: May 9, 2007

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Fire Chars Los Angeles' Largest Park

LOS ANGELES, California, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - About 500 firefighters made progress today fighting a fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon and blazed across the largest park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park in the Los Feliz area at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The fire has now burned more than 815 acres and is considered 75 percent contained.

When the fire first broke out near the Roosevelt Golf Course, officials evacuated hundreds of people, including everyone from the golf course and the nearby Griffth Observatory. Visitors and non-essential staff were evacuated from the Los Angeles Zoo, but no animals were evacuated.

When the first fire trucks arrived on the scene, the fire covered about seven acres of grass and brush, but after sundown, the fire intensified and spread across the steep rolling hills despite the efforts of firefighters, five helicopters dropping water, and a water tanker.

Residents of Los Feliz were evacuated Tuesday evening as the fire neared homes on the south side of the park. Residents are now being allowed back into their homes, and only one home has been damaged by the blaze due to quick structure protection by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Fire officials tallying the damage say that Dante's View, a popular public garden and hiking destination on the east slope of Mt. Hollywood, was destroyed by fire and so was Captain's Roost, older historic ornamental garden.

The park's bird sanctuary was 10 percent damaged, and 20 percent of the the cedar grove was damaged.

The cause of the fire is under active investigation. Ron Myers, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, says they are not prepared to state whether the fire is accidental or arson.

No suspects are in custody but a "person of interest" has been cited for smoking in a brushy area. That person is in a local area hospital suffering from burns.

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Lawsuit Seeks EPA Action on Cruise Ship Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - Friends of the Earth filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, today, seeking an immediate response to a seven year old cruise ship pollution petition submitted in March of 2000.

The petition was circulated on behalf of 53 organizations by Bluewater Network, which is now part of Friends of the Earth. It asked the EPA to assess and regulate pollution from cruise ships. The agency has still not responded.

After issuing a cruise pollution white paper in August 2000 and holding public hearings in September 2000 during the Clinton era, the EPA did nothing further under the Bush administration.

Over the past seven years, calls for a national regime for regulating cruise ship dumping have been made by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission with no response by the federal agency.

"Our oceans are suffering and can't wait any longer," said Teri Shore, campaign director for Friends of the Earth. "Another recordbreaking cruise ship season has started and the nation's waters remain at risk."

"The lawsuit only asks the court to require the EPA to do what the law says it must - respond to Friends of the Earth's petition," said Professor Michael Robinson-Dorn of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Washington, in Seattle,who prepared the case on behalf of Friends of the Earth.

The cruise industry has expanded by 107 percent over the past 10 years, according to "Cruise Industry News" Winter 2006/2007, with no new national environmental protections.

About 100 cruise vessels will carry more than 12 million passengers through North American waters this year, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Cruise ship size and capacity is expanding, with many ships now transporting 5,000 passengers and crew and the next generation of ships planned to carry as many as 8,500 passengers and crew.

Friends of the Earth points out that a typical one-week voyage with 3,000 people on board generates about 210,000 gallons of sewage, one million gallons of graywater and 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, figures given by the EPA.

Under the Clean Water Act, wastewater treatment requirements for ships are limited and apply only near shore. Cruise ships can discharge raw sewage beyond three miles from shore, and no treatment of graywater is required anywhere.

Treated sewage and oily bilge water can be released into harbors, estuaries and coastal waters without monitoring. By contrast, landside dischargers of sewage need federal permits and must report daily on levels of pollutants in discharges.

Four of the 16 states with cruise ships calling on their ports have enacted their own laws - California, Alaska, Maine, and Hawaii.

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Zero Endangered Species Listings in the Past Year

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - Today marks one year since the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service last protected any new species under the Endangered Species Act. The last time the agency went a full year without protecting a single species was in 1981.

There are currently 279 imperiled species that are designated as candidates for listing as threatened with or in danger of extinction.

"The Bush administration has closed the doors on endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "With the pressing threats of rapid habitat destruction and global climate change, it's an outrage that not a single new species has been protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an entire year."

The last species protected by the administration were 12 Hawaiian picture-wing flies listed in a single rule on May 9, 2006.

According to a report released today by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973.

To date, the Bush administration has listed only 57 species compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the first Bush administration.

Species that have gone extinct this year include the Hawaiian plant Haha, Cyanea eleeleensis.

The summer run of Lake Sammamish Kokonee salmon in Washington state are also believed extinct. In 2001, a group of concerned citizens petitioned to have the population protected as endangered, but despite pleas from county officials and the imperiled status of the fish, the Bush administration took no action.

"The Bush administration has killed the program for protecting new species as endangered," says Greenwald, "and in the process has contributed to the extinction of at least two species. This government's war on science is also a war against wildlife."

"The Bush administration is systematically undermining the recovery of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants," said William Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Not only is it refusing to list species in need of protection, it is also ignoring or undercutting recovery plans at the request of its political supporters in industry."

These actions are consistent with recently leaked draft regulations that would allow the Departments of Interior and Commerce to gut every significant protection contained in the statute. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, and Senate Resources Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, and Republicans such as Congressmen Wayne Gilchrest and Jim Saxton have all publicly complained about these problematic draft regulations.

Also today, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding oversight hearings on implementation of the Endangered Species Act by the Bush administration.

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Pregnant, Nursing Wild Bison Hazed Off Public Lands

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - Two volunteer members of the Buffalo Field Campaign were arrested today by Montana Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers while attempting to document bison hazing on public lands.

One Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer was taken to the hospital due to injuries caused during the arrest. The volunteers were arrested while videoing today's Montana Department of Livestock and Interagency Bison Management Plan bison hazing operations.

The first volunteer arrested had witnessed the Department of Livestock and other agents hazing wild bison across U.S. Highway 191. Highway patrols did not warn motorists or shut down traffic.

Chased by agents on horseback and a helicopter, another group of bison was close to crossing the road when the volunteer urged a Montana Highway Patrolman to shut down the highway and warn traffic. The patrolman responded by arresting him in aheated exchange.

The second volunteer was arrested attempting to document the arrest of the first volunteer. The patrolman took his camera away and forcibly placed the volunteer in handcuffs, slamming him to the ground and injuring his face.

A Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer was arrested today while documenting the hazing of bison on public lands.(Photo courtesy Barbara Michelman)
A Forest Service law enforcement officer assisted the patrolman with the arrests. The two arresting officers confiscated two Buffalo Field Campaign video cameras.

Last week, the same Montana Highway Patrol officer was videoed being hostile and aggressive to Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers who were documenting a bison hazing operation along Hwy. 287. Video footage of this incident is available here.

"Today's arrests were completely without warrant," said Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer Jessie Patterson who witnessed the arrests of both volunteers. "These officers acted in a violent way when the volunteers were well within their rights to document government actions on public lands."

Government and law enforcement officials routinely attempt to prevent the Buffalo Field Campaign from filming bison fhazing operations.

Last night, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks held a public meeting in West Yellowstone regarding Montana's bison hunt and the agency's involvement in the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Many Buffalo Field Campaign members and residents of the community were present to voice their opposition to the mismanagement of wild bison.

The Montana Department of Livestock, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, National Park Service, NPS, U.S. Forest Service, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Gallatin County Sheriffs, and Montana Highway Patrolmen all participated in today's bison hazing operation.

The government agents harassed about 400 members of the United States' last wild herd of bison within the Gallatin National Forest today.

This is the bison's calving season, a sensitive time for the species. Pregnant bison and day-old newborns, as well as other bison, were hazed off of public land by agents on horseback and a DOL helicopter, the volunteers report. Injured or sound, the bison were forced to run for over eight miles from the northern tip of the Horse Butte Peninsula along the Madison River back towards Yellowstone National Park.

Hazing bison off public lands is contrary to a November 2006 agreement signed by all Interagency Bison Management Plan, IBMP, officials, which is supposed to allow native wild bison access to public lands though May 15. This is the third time in three weeks that the IBMP agencies have ignored their agreement.

The purported reason for the government's aggressive management of wild bison is the perceived threat of the abortivedisease brucellosis. There has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock, even prior to implementation of the Interagency Bison Management Plan in 2000. Under the plan, 1,912 bison have been killed.

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K-Mart Discloses Environmental Violations, Pays Lower Fine

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Illinois, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - Kmart will pay a $102,422 fine to settle self-disclosed violations of federal environmental regulations discovered at 17 distribution centers in 13 states.

The company reported violations of clean water, hazardous waste, and emergency planning and preparedness regulations to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If EPA had discovered Kmart's violations through an inspection, the company would have faced a fine of more than $1.6 million.

"Our top priority is to protect the environment and public health. We have a variety of tools and options to do that," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "In this case, Kmart discovered its own violations and came forward with a plan to fix the problems."

Kmart has corrected the violations found during a 2004 audit conducted by outside consultants.

The company prepared and implemented spill prevention control and countermeasures plans, applied for stormwater permits, complied with hazardous waste generator requirements, and submitted reports to state and local emergency planning and response organizations informing them of the presence of hazardous substances.

Kmart audited its programs under an EPA policy that provides incentives to companies that discover, disclose, and correct environmental violations.

Under the audit policy, companies also must take steps to prevent future violations. EPA often reduces or waives penalties for certain violations if the facility meets the conditions of the policy. EPA will not waive or reduce penalties for repeat violations, or violations that resulted in serious harm, or presented an imminent or substantial endangerment to human health or the environment.

Kmart discovered violations at distribution centers located in - Billerica, Massachsetts; Canton, Michigan; Chambersburg, and Morrisville/Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania; Denver/Brighton, Colorado; Forest Park and Newnan, Georgia; Greensboro, North Carolina; Lawrence, Kansas; Manteno, Illinois; Shakopee, Minnesota; Sparks, Nevada; Warren, Ohio Ocala, Florida; and Groveport, Ontario, and Mira Loma, California.

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Water Agencies, Conservationists Team Up for Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC, May 9, 2007 (ENS) - An association of wastewater treatment agencies and a waterfowl conservation group will work together to help preserve and protect wetlands across the country.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, NACWA, and Ducks Unlimited, Inc. signed an agreement Tuesday to collaborate on promoting the preservation, restoration, and management of wetlands that are valuable to waterfowl and other wildlife.

The wetlands agreement was signed at the Capitol Hill Reception at the NACWA-Water Environment Federation Clean Water Policy Forum.

Wetlands serve many functions in addition to providing critical habitat to a large number of waterfowl species and other birds and animals, the organizations said.

More and more, clean water agencies construct them to provide nature's own treatment for wastewater and stormwater and as a method to improve water quality.

"We are here to launch a new partnership that really is an obvious partnership because our organizations are all about clean water and the huge benefits we derive from clean water," said NACWA President Dick Champion, the director of the Independence Water Pollution Control Department in Missouri.

"Two things that do the most to achieve clean water are wetlands and wastewater treatment plants," he said.

One of the goals of the Memorandum of Understanding between NACWA and Ducks Unlimited is to draw the public's eye to the importance of wetlands and the role they play in meeting water quality objectives and providing vibrant and vital habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.

"This partnership with the NACWA to protect, restore and manage wetlands of value to waterfowl and other wildlife shows how important wetlands are in meeting society's need for clean water, as well as providing habitat for ducks," said DU Executive Vice President Don Young. "This partnership will allow us to increase the acres of wetlands we can conserve for waterfowl."

The United States has lost more than half of its original wetlands and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

The clean water community is increasingly finding common ground with conservation groups on a host of issues, from clean water funding, wetlands initiatives, improved conservation measures in the upcoming Farm Bill, and cross-cutting issues between the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, according to lobbyist and environmental lawyer Jim Range, who addressed the Clean Water Policy Forum.

NACWA represents the interests of the nation's publicly owned wastewater treatment works, which collectively treat and reclaim over 18 billion gallons of wastewater daily. With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved.