AmeriScan: May 29, 2007

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U.S. Backs Tiger, Elephant, Whale Conservation at CITES

WASHINGTON, DC, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - The United States will support strong conservation measures and international trade protections for tigers, elephants and whales at the upcoming 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, in The Hague, Netherlands, June 3 to 15.

"CITES has proven to be a powerful tool to prevent the extinction of species such as tigers, elephants and whales and we intend to work with other countries to support the continued protection and conservation of these species," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens, the head of the U.S. delegation.

At the CITES meeting, the United States is proposing new restrictions on international trade in sawfish and pink and red coral.

At the same time, the U.S. is seeking to lift trade restrictions on the bobcat, a species that is "abundant throughout its range," Willens said.

The United States will work closely with European nations to determine if two shark species – the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle – require CITES protection.

Willens says the U.S. delegation will hold consultations with range countries and other nations before deciding whether to support proposals to list several Central and South American timber species.

CITES is an international agreement signed by 171 nations that is designed to control and regulate global trade in certain wild animals and plants that are or may become threatened with extinction due to commercial trade.

The United States will publish its tentative negotiating positions for the CITES meeting in the Federal Register before the start of the conference.

But Willens says the United States has not yet taken final positions on many of the 40 proposals on the CITES agenda because of the desire to hold discussions with and work with range states and other parties during the conference.

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American Geologists Honored by Afghan President

RESTON, Virginia, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has awarded two scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, a high honor for helping to develop and implement a five year plan to revitalize Afghanistan's natural resources sector.

Dr. Patrick Leahy, former acting director and associate director for geology at the USGS, and Dr. Jack Medlin, regional specialist for the Asia and Pacific region, were given the Ghazi Mir Bach Khan Superior State Medal.

Dr. Leahy retired on April 30 after a 33 year career with the USGS and is now executive director of the American Geological Institute.

"This medal is one of the highest awards the Afghanistan government can bestow upon a non-Afghanistan individual, and we are honored that President Karzai has awarded it to two premier U.S. Geological Survey scientists," said USGS Director Mark Myers.

"This demonstrates the value that the USGS has in the international community for its ability to provide credible, objective science that key policymakers can use to help revitalize and redevelop a once war-torn nation such as Afghanistan," Myers said.

The USGS has been working with the government of Afghanistan since 2003 to provide an oil and gas resources assessment of the nation, which was issued in March 2006.

An earthquake hazards assessment is scheduled to be released on May 30.

And the USGS has worked with the Afghan government on a a mineral resources assessment and a coal resources assessment, both set to be released by the end of this year.

USGS scientists also have been training scientists in Afghanistan on the latest scientific methods and technology so that they will be able to sustain and further develop the new natural resources assessments that the USGS has provided.

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Montana to Trap and Slaughter Yellowstone Bison

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - Montana Department of Livestock agents are currently erecting a bison trap near the West Yellowstone Airport, located just outside the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

According to statements made by the agents and the Montana governor's office, the state plans to capture and slaughter any bison in Montana starting as soon as tomorrow.

There are about 250 bison grazing on National Forest lands near the Madison River and Hebgen Reservoir.

While the purported reason for the bison slaughter is to protect Montana's livestock industry from the abortive livestock disease brucellosis, at no time of the year do cattle occupy these public lands. There has never been a documented brucellosis transmission from wild bison to livestock.

But earlier this month the Montana cattle industry became afraid it may lose its current brucellosis free status when one cow from Baker and six cows from Bridger, Montana tested positive for brucellosis.

"We are concerned about our brucellosis free status," said Governor Brian Schweitzer. "Federal and state agencies are investigating the test results now and we will continue to work toward solutions to keep Montana’s brucellosis free status."

The cattle originated from a ranch where Yellowstone bison had not commingled, the governor said. "The likelihood of the source being Yellowstone bison is remote," he said.

The state maintains its brucellosis free status until two herds test positive under federal guidelines. If Montana loses status, all adult cattle going out-of-state will be brucellosis tested at the owner’s expense.

"Governor Schweitzer campaigned on promises of providing greater tolerance for bison in Montana," said Dan Brister of the wild bison advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign, "yet he bends to the irrational will of the Stockgrowers whenever they demand more dead bison. Since Governor Schweitzer has been in office, 1,177 Yellowstone bison have been killed."

Forest Service lands and airport lands near the trap site will be closed to the public. However, members of the media and the public will be allowed to view operations from a nearby hillside, said Bill Queen of the Hebgen Ranger District of the Gallatin National Forest.

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Pennsylvania Groups File Notice of Air Pollution Lawsuit

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - Two citizens' groups have announced their intention to sue FirstEnergy for air pollution violations at its Bruce Mansfield plant in western Pennsylvania's Beaver County.

Records provided by FirstEnergy show that the Bruce Mansfield plant released harmful and illegal air pollution at least 257 times between November 22, 2002 and March 29, 2007.

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, PennFuture, with the support of the Environmental Integrity Project, EIP, sent the legally required 60 day notice letter to the company on May 22 with copies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The letter asserts that the plant’s air discharges violate the federal Clean Air Act and the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act.

This citizen suit is permitted when governmental authorities fail to enforce the law. Under the law, the company and the government agencies have 60 days to develop a plan to correct the violations before a lawsuit can be filed.

Records provided by FirstEnergy show that the Bruce Mansfield plant released harmful and illegal air pollution at least 257 times between November 22, 2002 and March 29, 2007.

On July 22, 2006, residents in a five mile radius of the plant were deluged with "black rain," which damaged homes, automobiles, crops, livestock and other vegetation and structures.

Penn State University officials warned residents not to sell, butcher or eat livestock that had been exposed to the black rain, and farmers were instructed to throw away any crops or honey that had been exposed.

Susan Bird of Raccoon, Pennsylvania fears living near the plant. "When I was pregnant with my first child I was living 40 miles away. But when I was pregnant with my two younger sons, I was living one mile from the Bruce Mansfield power plant. Our first child is healthy, but our two younger sons have neurological disorders," she said.

Ralph Hysong of the Action Committee to Improve the Environment of Beaver County said, "Living near the Bruce Mansfield power plant, I suffer from loss of taste and smell, inflammation of the mucus membrane of the nose, horny growths on the skin, and constant sinus drainage. I believe our local environment is to blame."

"Last July's soot explosion was the exclamation point on a long record of pollution," said Charles McPhedran, Senior Attorney for PennFuture. "The plant's own records show that it persistently violates standards meant to protect the health of its neighbors. This disregard for state and federal law, and for the health of people trying to breathe nearby, must stop."

"PennFuture has had to pick up the slack left when the Bush Administration ordered EPA staff to drop investigations of FirstEnergy and other big power plants around the country," said EIP Director Eric Schaeffer. "PennFuture deserves a lot of credit for taking action on what is really a life and death matter for Pennsylvania's families."

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Oregon Transportation Dept. Hit With $90,000 Fine

PORTLAND, Oregon, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, has issued a $90,000 penalty to the Oregon Department of Transportation for more than three dozen documented violations of ODOT’s stormwater discharge permit which occurred during a construction project along U.S. Highway 20 in Lincoln County.

The violations, which occurred from September 2006 through January 2007, stem from ODOT’s failure to prevent discharge of sediment-laden stormwater from a construction site to the Yaquina River and its tributaries.

DEQ documented numerous muddy stormwater discharges as a result of ODOT’s realignment and shortening of Highway 20 between Eddyville and Pioneer Mountain in Lincoln County.

The Yaquina River and its tributary creeks provide spawning and rearing habitat for sensitive fish species, including cutthroat and steelhead trout, and coho, chinook and chum salmon.

The Department of Environmental Quality assigned ODOT a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit in July 2005 that required the transportation agency to undertake erosion and sediment control measures, oversee stormwater treatment and control facilities, and discharge stormwater to state waters at levels meeting state water quality standards.

ODOT awarded a contract to Yaquina River Constructors, who worked with two subcontractors to work on the Highway 20 project. During the summer of 2006, ODOT’s contractor cleared 160 acres of steeply sloped terrain with erodable soils.

Department of Environmental Quality inspectors determined that ODOT failed to develop and implement an adequate Erosion and Sediment Control Plan for the project, which resulted in "significant amounts of sediment" discharging into the Yaquina River and its tributaries.

As early as last July, the DEQ and other natural resource agencies expressed concerns to the Department of Transportation and its contractors about directing more attention to erosion control measures.

With the onset of fall rains, and as recently as February, the measures implemented were still inadequate to prevent multiple slope failures into stream beds, mud flows and discharges of highly turbid stormwater.

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New Jersey Seeks Public Opinion on State Parks

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 29, 2007 (ENS) - Visitors to New Jersey's parks, forests, and historic sites are being asked to help shape the future of the state's recreational areas by participating in a new summer-long survey.

The state Department of Environmental Proection, DEP, will be conducting the visitor surveys throughout the summer to better understand the public's top priorities for park improvements including campsites, trails, swimming areas, historic restoration and boating and fishing access.

"New Jersey's recreational areas contribute immeasurably to our quality of life," said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. "We want to know what matters most to our visitors as we begin making improvements to existing facilities and developing new amenities."

New Jersey voters last November made these improvements possible by approving a constitutional amendment that provides funding for maintenance and capital improvements at state parks, historic sites and wildlife areas.

The approved funding amounts to $15 million a year until 2015 and $32 million annually beginning in 2016.

The public can participate by completing a survey at any park, forest or historic site office or online at: http://www.njparksandforests.org.