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AmeriScan: November 23, 2004

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U.S. Wins Support for First International Shark Fin Ban

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, November 23, 2004 (ENS) – More than 60 nations have agreed to ban shark finning in the Atlantic Ocean.

The agreement was adopted by consensus on Sunday by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and is the first international ban on shark finning.

Conservationists hailed the ban of a practice that many believe has contributed to severe declines in shark populations worldwide.

Finning is the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the carcass back into the sea.

Shark fin is the principal ingredient in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy that can sell for $100 a bowl.

"We are elated that ICCAT has acted to ban the wasteful practice of shark finning, thereby taking a huge step towards safeguarding some of the ocean's more vulnerable animals," said Sonja Fordham, shark conservation specialist for The Ocean Conservancy and a member of the U.S. delegation to ICCAT.

The proposal to ban finning was cosponsored by the United States, the European Community, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, Trinidad & Tobago, and Venezuela.

Finning has been prohibited in the U.S. Atlantic since 1993 - other ICCAT member countries with domestic finning bans include Brazil, Canada, Namibia, South Africa and the European Union.

International agreements are seen as vital to longterm protection for sharks, which migrate great distances across the world’s oceans.

"ICCAT has taken a big step forward, but sharks remain in peril all over the world," said Liz Lauck of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the U.S. ICCAT delegation. "We urge other Regional Fishery Management Organizations to follow ICCAT's lead by adopting finning bans and requirements for better shark fisheries data."

Lauck said, "The success of ICCAT shark measures will hinge on enforcement of the finning ban, careful monitoring of new shark data and follow-up action through catch limits."

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California Aims to Chop Down Sierra Nevada Logging Plan

SACRAMENTO, California, November 23, 2004 (ENS) – California intends to file suit in a bid to block the Bush administration’s plan to increase logging across the 11 national forests of the Sierra Nevada, according to the state’s attorney general.

The warning from California Attorney General Bill Lockyer came a day after the U.S. Forest Service announced its decision to press ahead with revised Sierra Nevada Framework.

The new plan more than triples the amount of logging allowed under the plan created for the forests by the Clinton administration and allows the logging of larger trees.

The Clinton plan set a maximum diameter for trees allowed to be cut at 20 inches – the new plan increases that to 30 inches.

Forest Service officials say the new plan will protect old growth forests, wildlife and communities against catastrophic wildfire, a characterization is disputed by California officials and conservationists.

These critics contend the plan does not target the areas most in need of clearing, allows the clearing of old growth trees, and fails to protect endangered species.

Lockyer called the Bush revisions a “betrayal of treasured forests and the public trust.”

The revised plan will become final in two weeks, unless reviewed by the U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey.

Lockyer said he will challenge the plan in federal court if Rey does not act.

The plan violates federal environmental protection laws, and will increase commercial logging, endanger wildlife habitats, reduce water quality and weaken grazing restrictions, according to the California Attorney General.

"With this action, the Bush administration maintains its full-speed retreat from environmental protection,” Lockyer said. “Its continued willingness to sacrifice California's natural resources has forced my office over the last four years to divert countless taxpayer dollars from fighting polluters to fighting the federal government."

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North Carolina Threatens EPA With Clean Air Suit

RALEIGH, North Carolina, November 23, 2004 (ENS) – North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper plans to file suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to act on a petition that calls on the federal agency to curb air pollution from 13 upwind states.

Cooper’s announcement on Friday followed a similar 60 day notice of intent to sue filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Environmental Defense.

Both notices stem from the petition filed in March by North Carolina that asked the EPA to force 13 upwind states to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions from power plants, the single largest source of air pollution in the region.

Under the law, the EPA was required to act on North Carolina’s petition by November 18 and has yet to take action.

“Every day our petition is delayed is a missed opportunity to make a real impact on pollution,” Cooper said. “North Carolina has made strides in cleaning up our own air, but we know that dirty air does not stop at the state line.”

The plants identified in the petition are located in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

All or part of 32 counties in North Carolina do not meet federal clean air standards due in part to pollution crossing its borders from the states cited in the petition.

“Polluted air blows into North Carolina back yards along with the fall leaves, and we know where it is coming from,” said Michael Shore, senior air policy analyst for Environmental Defense. “So does EPA. The ‘P’ in EPA stands for protection, and it is time for us to get that protection from power plant pollution.”

North Carolina is the first southern state to file a “126 petition,” a seldom- used tool under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act that has been successfully used in the past by northeastern states to force midwestern and southern states to curb ozone-forming emissions.

Last week Cooper also threatened the Tennessee Valley Authority with legal action if the federal utility does not curb pollution from its coal-fired power plants.

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National Uranium Enrichment Facility Comment Period Extended

WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2004 (ENS) - Louisiana Energy Services has submitted a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to construct, operate, and decommission a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility near Eunice, New Mexico, in Lea County.

The proposed facility, called the National Enrichment Facility (NEF), would produce enriched uranium-235 by the gas centrifuge process. The enriched uranium would be used in commercial nuclear power plants.

Enrichment is the process of increasing the concentration of the naturally occurring and fissionable uranium-235 isotope. Uranium ore usually contains about 0.72 weight percent uranium-235. In order to be useful in nuclear power plants as fuel for electricity generation, the uranium must be enriched up to five weight percent.

If the license is approved, facility construction would be scheduled to begin in 2006 and continued for 8 years through 2013. The proposed NEF operation would begin in 2008 with initial production beginning in 2008. Peak production would be achieved in 2013. Operations would continue at peak production until nine years before the license expires, at which time decommissioning activities would be phased in with completion by 2036.

Currently, the only uranium enrichment facility in operation in the United States is located in Paducah, Kentucky, imposing "reliability risks for the supply of domestically generated enriched uranium," according to the NRC in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS).

The environmental impacts from the proposed enrichment facility are generally "small" to "moderate" and would be mitigated by methods described in the Draft EIS.

The most severe accident would be the release of uranium hexafluoride caused by rupturing an overfilled and/or overheated cylinder, which the NRC says "could incur a collective population dose of 120 person-sieverts (12,000 person-rem) and seven latent cancer fatalities." That means seven people would be likely to eventually get cancer.

"The proposed NEF design would reduce the likelihood of this event by using redundant heater controller trips," the NRC says.

There are no existing surface water resources to contaminate. The NRC says retention basins such as the Treated Effluent Evaporative Basin and the Uranium Byproduct Cylinder Storage Pad Stormwater Retention Basin would be lined "to minimize infiltration of water into the subsurface."

The underlying Santa Rosa aquifer is located about 340 meters (1,115 feet) below the ground surface, and the NRC says no local assessment of the effect of the enrichment facility on the aquifer has been done because it is considered too deep and the overlying clay too thick to permit contamination.

The 480 page Draft EIS is available on the NRC website at: http://www.nrc.gov/materials/fuel-cycle-fac/ml042510184.pdf

The Commission has extended until December 18 the public comment period because of the temporary unavailability of the agency’s public document library on its website.

The original public comment period began September 17 and was to expire November 6. However, the NRC initiated a security review October 25 of publicly available documents to ensure that potentially sensitive information is removed from the agency’s site. Documents are being restored in stages as they are screened for sensitive information.

“The NRC remains committed to being an open regulatory agency,” said Daniel Gillen, acting director of NRC’s Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection. “Extending the public comment period is appropriate to allow members of the public to have time for access to relevant documents while developing their comments on the draft environmental impact statement.”

Public comments should be postmarked by December 18 and submitted to the Chief, Rules Review and Directives Branch, Mail Stop T6-D59, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001. Please note docket number 70-3103. Comments may also be submitted by e-mail to nrcrep@nrc.gov, or by fax to 301-415-5397, attention Anna Bradford.

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Reuse of Materials Funded for Philadelphia's Old Row Houses

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, November 23, 2004 (ENS) - Two Philadelphia projects to find cost-effective ways for dismantling structurally unsound row homes and reusing building materials will be funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A $74,000 EPA grant will fund an evaluation of an approach to building deconstruction where row houses are dismantled and sections are transferred off-site for further deconstruction.

It is expected that using this new mechanized and panelized approach to deconstruction will allow for the most efficient reuse of roof and floor structural lumber, enable quicker access to properties by redevelopers, and reduce exposure to safety hazards.

Partners in this project include the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Penn State’s Hamer Center for Community Design Assistance, which will plan and implement the project. The City of Philadelphia, through its Neighborhood Transformation Initiative will employ these approaches in their deconstruction project addressing urban blight.

The EPA will monitor the progress of the pilot deconstruction project.

Nationwide, an estimated 300,000 buildings are demolished each year. They produce 65 million tons of waste, and only 20 to 30 percent of these building materials are reused or recycled. Many of these houses contain wood framing, flooring, wood doors, and other valuable materials that can be reused.

All aspects of the project will be tracked, including labor, machinery, transportation for workers, disposal, and salvage. The final evaluation will include an assessment of the pilot findings, outreach efforts, and methods to encourage use of recommended practices by demolition companies.

If the pilot can demonstrate that the new techniques are cost-effective, Philadelphia's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) program may utilize these deconstruction practices in the demolition of 10,000 condemned properties throughout the city.

When the study is complete, the findings will be presented to the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the American Institute of Architects Philadelphia Chapter Committee on the Environment, whose members have already expressed interest in using recovered building materials from the NTI buildings.

This grant is one of seven in the nation funded by EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response to test innovative ideas for environmental and public health protection.

EPA also announced a grant of $86,027 to Mid-Atlantic Consortium of Recycling and Economic Development Officials (MACREDO) for the Unbuild/Rebuild Philadelphia Project.

The Unbuild/Rebuild Philadelphia Project will develop tools and provide technical assistance to increase the recovery, reuse, re-manufacture and recycling of building materials from the demolition of thousands of buildings by the City of Philadelphia.

This grant will prepare the network to divert construction waste from the city’s Neighborhood Transformation initiative being planned for the next three to five years by setting up extensive networking capacity.

MACREDO will develop an Internet site that can be used as a regional building material exchange, an information sharing resource, and a critical tool for documentation, communication, and distribution.

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Animal Protection Groups Announce Merger

WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2004 (ENS) - The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS) and The Fund for Animals (The Fund) announced Monday that they will join forces in order to advance their common mission.

Both organizations' boards of directors, which will combine to operate as one, voted unanimously in a series of meetings over the last several months to make the change. The merger will formally occur on January 1, 2005.

"Our groups have decided to join forces not out of necessity, but because we believe we can do more to help animals together than we can do operating separately," said Dr. David Wiebers, chair of The HSUS's Board of Directors. "By combining resources the new entity will bring unprecedented energy to the battles we take on. This union ushers in a whole new era of strengthened activism for animals."

The groups have also launched a new 501(c)(4) political organization, the HSUS Fund for Animals, to augment their existing public policy work and allow for a larger investment of resources in political and lobbying activities.

"We may not be able to match our opponents dollar for dollar, but we will be more aggressive and more effective, putting the animal abusers on the defensive and pushing forward a wide range of reforms for animals," said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund.

The two groups plan to operate their advocacy programs under the banner of The HSUS, building a new external affairs department to focus on major, defining issues such as fur, sport hunting, factory farming, and malicious animal cruelty, including animal fighting.

Officials said the new organization will pursue these goals through investigations, litigation, communications, and professional campaigning.

"With our new campaigns, we will create meaningful social change for animals," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "Our goal is nothing short of a kinder society, where compassionate individuals join with us to ensure that animals are not abused either in random acts of cruelty or in institutional settings, such as industrial factory farms."

The HSUS has eight million members and constituents, a 2004 budget of $82 million, and more than $100 million in assets. The Fund has 200,000 members and constituents, a 2004 budget of $7 million, and $20 million in assets.

Washington, D.C. will remain the base of operations for the combined organization, which has a planned 2005 budget of over $95 million.

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Chronic Wasting Disease Spreads in Wyoming

LARAMIE, Wyoming, November 23, 2004 (ENS) - The first elk to test positive for chronic wasting disease in the Elk Mountain area on the north end of the Snowy Range, was discovered this week by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and confirmed by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory.

Prior to this discovery, chronic wasting disease (CWD) had only been found in elk in the Laramie Range stretching from Douglas to south of Laramie. Chronic wasting disease has been found since 2002 in deer in the Elk Mountain area.

"This is the furthest west CWD had been found in elk in Wyoming, and it is always disturbing when the range expands for either deer or elk," said Bob Lanka, G&F Laramie Region wildlife coordinator.

The elk that tested positive for the disease was at least six years old and was shot on October 24. Since 1997, 27 elk have been tested for chronic wasting disease in this, including five in 2004.

Hank Edwards, wildlife disease specialist in charge of testing and mapping chronic wasting disease data, reports his crew has examined the lymph nodes from 2,700 deer and elk killed by hunters this fall for the disease. The crew has an additional 400 samples to test this year. The only other new area discovered this fall was a deer hunting area in the southeast Snowy Range.

The Game and Fish Department recommends that deer and elk hunters transport from any area where chronic wasting disease is known to exist - only cut and wrapped meat, boned meat, animal quarters or other pieces with no portion of the spinal column or head attached, hides without the head, cleaned skull plates with no meat or nervous tissue attached, or antlers with no meat or other tissue attached.

The head, spine and other central nervous system tissue - areas where the abnormal protein or prion causing the disease is found in infected animals -- should be left at the site of the kill or disposed of in an approved landfill. The hunter will need to take the head if he or she would like to have it tested for chronic wasting disease.

There is still no evidence that chronic wasting disease is a human health risk.

In 2004, Dr. Ermias Belay of the Center for Disease Control said, "The lack of evidence of a link between CWD transmission and unusual cases of CJD, [Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a human prion disease] despite several epidemiologic investigations,…suggest that the risk, if any, of transmission of CWD to humans is low."

Still, to avoid any risk, experts say parts or products from any animal that looks sick or tests positive for chronic wasting disease should not be eaten.

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Expert Panel Urges Expansion of Interdisciplinary Research

WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2004 (ENS) - Advances in science and engineering increasingly require the collaboration of scholars from various fields, but interdisciplinary research is impeded at many institutions by policies on hiring, promotion, tenure, and resource allocation that favor traditional disciplines, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The committee that wrote the report urged academic institutions to explore new models that foster and reward interdisciplinary interactions.

It calls on academic institutions to revise recruitment and hiring practices to reach across departments, placing greater emphasis on people with valuable interdisciplinary backgrounds; promotion criteria should include methods to evaluate interdisciplinary faculty and programs as well.

The committee concluded that the process by which institutions evaluate interdisciplinary research programs is often imperfect.

The peer-review process for both people and programs should include researchers with interdisciplinary expertise, in addition to experts in single disciplines.

Also, greater flexibility in resource allocation is often needed to serve the needs of these programs.

The report's recommendations are not targeted solely to academic institutions, according to committee co-chair Theodore Brown, founding director emeritus, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

"Our objective is to stimulate interdisciplinary research, so we offer suggestions for everyone who plays a key role in the research process, including students, postdoctoral scholars, researchers, educators, funding organizations, professional societies, and journal editors," Brown said.

The committee said funding organizations can enhance their evaluations of interdisciplinary research programs and projects - in particular, the review process should include scientists and engineers with interdisciplinary expertise, along with experts in discrete disciplines.

Journal editors, the committee said, should actively encourage the publication of interdisciplinary research results.

The report also calls on professional societies to serve as incubators for generating and facilitating interdisciplinary programs and projects. The committee advises undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to actively seek out interdisciplinary experiences, and to pursue training and study in one or more fields in addition to their own.

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