AmeriScan: November 9, 2005

* * *

U.S. and China Partner to Cut Air, Water Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - The United States and China are cooperating to reduce air pollution, water pollution, and pollution from toxic substances, as well as a new plan to work together to solve problems of hazardous and solid waste.

On Tuesday, the inaugural meeting of the Joint Committee on Environmental Cooperation (JCEC) was held in Washington by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) of the People's Republic of China.

The meeting was co-chaired by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and SEPA Minister Xie Zhenhua, with more than two dozen senior environment officials from the United States and China in attendance.

The JCEC was established in December 2003 by a Memorandum of Understanding on environmental Scientific and Technical Cooperation signed by both agencies.

The memorandum outlined a number of potential collaborative areas, with an immediate focus on prevention and management of air pollution, water contamination, and the environmental impacts of toxic substances. Each of these three areas is the subject of a separate annex to the agreement and managed by a joint working group.

"Collaboration with our world partners helps EPA meet our commitment to a cleaner global environment," said Johnson. "Today is the next step in ensuring that the next generation in both China and the United States can look forward to a healthier, cleaner world."

"Environmental protection is the common cause and responsibility of human beings," said Xie. "I sincerely wish to work with EPA and other U.S. agencies to further deepen our environmental cooperation, and make contributions to the global environment not only for us, but also for our future generations."

During today's meeting, both sides acknowledged substantial progress. They held three international workshops in Beijing since July on managing regional air quality and reducing emissions from diesel engines.

They recognized the accomplishment of a water protection project in Tianjin, and the approval of a new strategy that will focus on water safety and nonpoint source pollution.

The EPA, SEPA, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Shanghai have begun a new joint project to reduce port emissions from diesel engines.

The EPA announced plans to help China to virtually eliminate mercury from the healthcare sector and said the agency hopes to assist China in conducting mercury emissions inventories.

Both sides pledged ongoing cooperation to reduce toxic emissions, assess impacts of pollution, and clean up contaminated sites.

In the coming year, JCEC will also address the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) Partnership on Clean Fuels and Vehicles and the WSSD Partnership on Indoor Air.

Administrator Johnson and Minister Xie resolved to reconvene the Joint Committee on Environmental Cooperation in China in 2007.

* * *

Hawaii Fishing Groups Seek Federal Probe of Wespac Management Council

WAIANAE, Hawaii, November 9, 2005 - Two Hawaii fishing organizations are asking the United States Department of Commerce Inspector General for an investigation of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac).

Their request, sent Monday in a letter to Inspector General Johnnie Frazier, is supported by a detailed report which alleges a pattern of "improper and dishonest conduct in a campaign by Wespac to undermine presidential executive orders and laws guiding the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and a related proposal to designate the area a marine sanctuary."

Wespac is the agency responsible for management of fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore of all islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. The Council is to help the Department of Commerce develop fishery management plans and advise the Department of Commerce on fishing matters. It is wholly funded through the Department of Commerce; its members are appointed by the Secretary of Commerce and are compensated by the department for their work.

Wespac staff are federal employees within the Department of Commerce. The Inspector General in the Department of Commerce is responsible for auditing and investigating the performance of the activities of agencies of the department, particularly in cases of illegal or unethical behavior.

Actions that may have violated the law, the fishing groups claim, includes a refusal to follow the law, improper lobbying by employees of a federal agency, misuse of federal funds and manipulations of rules and regulations regarding public participation.

"Council members have personally profited from their policy recommendations, including recommendations regarding the small but high-impact NWHI lobster fishery which, according to NOAA, created 'a continuous stream of ecological concerns,' ending in a 'catastrophic collapse' of the fishery," the fishing groups alleged in their letter to Frazier.

The two groups point out that last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed displeasure with Wespac’s management by rejected their proposed fishing regulations for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"This slap at Wespac is the consequence of more than five year’s of effort by Wespac to undermine and ignore the efforts of two presidents, the governor of Hawaii and the majority of Hawaiians to protect and conserve the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI)," the fishing groups said in a statement.

“We believe this report shows a pattern of behavior by Wespac that warrants investigation by the Inspector General,” said William Aila, spokesman for the Waianae Boat Fishing Club and the Oahu Game Fishing Club.

The native Hawaiian fisherman serves as harbormaster for the Waianae Boat Harbor, and sat on Wespac's Pelagic Advisory Panel for over 11 years and co-chaired the panel for two terms.

“The conservation and protection of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands has support from Hawaiians across the political spectrum," said Aila. "And yet Wespac has engaged in a shameful campaign of misinformation and manipulation of the public process in order to advance their narrow agenda and the interests of a few individuals.”

“Everyone in the Hawai’i fishing industry knows that Wespac regularly uses these kinds of questionable practices," Aila said. "We’re hoping that by bringing this to the attention of the Inspector General we can force Wespac to reform.”

The report reviews some of the conflicts of interest by members of Wespac that might explain the behavior of that agency. Aila said, “What we want to see from this report is for the Inspector General to thoroughly investigate Wespac and do whatever is necessary to get Wespac back on track to doing its job within the legal mandates.”

Wespac was not available for comment as the Council opened a four day meeting on Tuesday in Guam. The Council will consider a change to ecosystem based fisheries management for bottomfish, crustaceans, precious corals and coral reef resources in the offshore waters of the U.S. Pacific islands.

Stephanie Fried, Ph.D., senior scientist with Environmental Defense based on Oahu, says "it's about time" for a federal investigation of Wespac's activities.

"Frankly, this is a national scandal," said Fried. "You have the federally funded organization responsible for designing management plans for approximately half of all federal waters in the United States, running amuck and attempting to prevent protections supported by the vast majority of people who have attended over 30 hearings, 100 public meetings on the NWHI over the past five years, protections which are of deep importance to the Native Hawaiian community."

The report and all related documents can be found at:

* * *

Senator Reid Drops Opposition to Utah Wilderness

WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. Senator Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic Leader, announced today that he will drop his opposition to a provision that would create a new wilderness area near the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah. The wilderness designation could potentially prevent the opening of a nuclear waste storage facility on the reservation, something Utah’s elected leaders have fiercely opposed.

Reid has traditionally opposed the provision out of concerns it would set a bad precedent for future wilderness designation. But, after a recent conversation with Utah’s Senator Robert Bennett, Reid agreed to set aside his concerns in order to help the efforts of Bennett and other state officials to prevent the nuclear site from opening.

“Land use designation is one of the biggest challenges we face in Nevada, where the federal government controls more than 80 percent of the state’s land,” Senator Reid said. “I have spent my public career working on public lands issues and have come to appreciate that Congress must be very careful in how we approach wilderness designation."

“While I continue to have concerns about the Cedar Mountain wilderness proposal, of even greater concern is the threat posed by deadly nuclear waste. After speaking with Utah leaders, including Senator [Bob] Bennett and Governor [Jon] Huntsman, I have agreed to drop my opposition to this proposal. With the proposed Goshute nuclear waste site moving forward, timing has become critical and the state of Utah will need every available resource to fight this project.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the Goshute site as suitable for temporary storage of nuclear waste earlier this year, giving a boost to the Private Fuel Storage consortium’s plans to open a facility in the near future. Utah’s elected leaders have vowed to continue fighting the project.

In Nevada, plans for a permanent nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain continue to be delayed indefinitely, putting that project in jeopardy. Reid and Nevada’s other congressional members have fought the project for decades, resulting in successful challenges and continued delays.

Reid has proposed a more realistic approach to solving the nation’s nuclear waste storage problems by leaving the waste at the sites where it is generated. Reid has been working on gaining support for his proposal.

Bennett recently announced that he would support the idea and with bipartisan support growing, Reid hopes to introduce legislation soon.

* * *

Local Governments Fight Rogue Waste Dumps in New Jersey Rail Yards

NEWARK, New Jersey, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of 10 New Jersey local governments, municipal associations and trade groups have asked the Federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to rule against allowing unregulated waste facilities at rail yards to continue disregarding state environmental laws.

The case involves an open-air waste handling site along a railroad in North Bergen, New Jersey that the coalition says is exploiting Federal transportation regulations to operate without permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Without these permits, state and local environment and health officials are unable to fully enforce regulations and rules to protect the public health and environment.

In the last year, several of these unregulated waste facilities have begun operating along rail lines in northern New Jersey and others are proposed in Atlantic and Burlington County.

The owners and operators of these facilities are attempting to evade state and local permits by claiming these waste facilities are not subject to state environmental regulations since rail operations are regulated by the STB, a division of the Department of Transportation.

The Declaratory Order filed October 27 asserts that waste facilities are not integral to railroad operations and therefore do not enjoy the federal preemption afforded general railroad operations.

"These companies operating these dumps are brazenly flouting federal, state, and local environmental protections and putting our families at risk," said Congressman Bob Menendez.

"The dumps are completely open to the air. They are polluting the surrounding neighborhoods with wind-blown debris and hurting our wetlands through dangerous runoff. The trash at these sites can reach the height of a three story building," said Menendez. "They are horrible eyesores that are harming our environment and need to be closed."

"Whether through legislation I've introduced, action by the state, or this petition to the STB, we need to let the people of New Jersey shut these dumps down and keep our rivers clean, our air clear, and our families healthy," the congressman said.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg is also a sponsor of federal legislation that removes the STB's ability to approve waste sites on rail lines. "The STB has the opportunity today through this Declaratory Order to set the record straight and shut down waste site operators who seek to exploit any perceived loophole in federal law. If the STB fails to grant the relief sought in this petition I am fully prepared to quickly move on federal legislation that will solve this once and for all."

Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, says, "This Declaratory Order seeks to clarify whether the Department of Transportation truly believes it retains jurisdiction over waste stations instead of state and local authorities. Of course, we believe they do not have jurisdiction, but if they rule that they do then we'll work very diligently with our elected officials in Washington to ensure passage of federal legislation to change that once and for all to protect our citizens, communities and environment."

The municipal and industry coalition includes the city of Newark, Burlington County, Hainesport, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey League of Municipalities, the Solid Waste Association of North America, the US Conference of Mayors, the Integrated Waste Services Association, the Construction Material Recyclers' Association, and the National Solid Wastes Management Association who argue that these facilities not only harm the environment but also provide an unfair business advantage to operators who run facilities without the required environmental permits and licenses.

The STB is expected to rule on the Declaratory Order within five to seven months.

* * *

Six Year Mercury Cleanup Completed in California's Tomales Bay

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - A cleanup and restoration project at the site of the biggest contributor of elemental mercury to Tomales Bay has been completed after six years.

Soil erosion and runoff from the abandoned Gambonini Mine, a 12 acre site on a steep hillside that drains to Salmon Creek, a tributary of Walker Creek on the north side of Tomales Bay, was sending as much as 180 pounds of mercury per year into the creek and bay as recently as 1999.

The remediation took the combined efforts of the Marin Conservation Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The multi-media cleanup effort initiated that year by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board and U.S. EPA has dramatically reduced the amount of mercury washing down from the mine site. A forthcoming technical report from the water board will detail the reduction of mercury in the creeks.

“We applaud the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Marin Conservation Corps for their success in restoring this site,” said Alexis Strauss, director of the U.S. EPA’s Water Division in the Pacific Southwest Region.

In addition to the grading and filling of eroded areas of the site, where mining ceased in 1970, low-tech, relatively inexpensive erosion control techniques and revegetation of the area with native plants played major roles in the successful remediation of the site.

Local participants in the work included the Marin Resource Conservation District, which contributed initial fieldwork and identified sediment sources on the site; and members of the Marin Conservation Corps, who provided much of the hand labor required for bioengineering, revegetation, and erosion control, all of which were critical components of the restoration project.

“This project provided corps members with the opportunity to learn about erosion control, mercury mining and environmental science concepts. It gave educational opportunities well beyond vocational training coming from extensive power tool use,” said Marilee Eckert, executive director of the Marin Conservation Corps.

The revegetation plan, which included soil remediation and development of a seed palette and local seed bank for the project as well as extensive planting, was developed by the state Department of Conservation and Department of Forestry. Local groups such as Circuit Rider Productions and the Marin Motorcycle Association contributed labor and expertise at various stages of the project.

“All of the agencies and organizations working on this project benefited from the collaboration,” says Dyan Whyte, senior geologist at the Water Board whose graduate research in the area quantified the mercury coming off the site and spurred the overall project.

“The results in terms of mercury reduction seem to be exceeding all of our expectations, Whyte says. This has been a very rewarding project to work on, and what we’ve learned should be useful in many other watersheds where former mercury mines are causing major problems for water quality.”

Mercury has been known to have toxic effects on humans and wildlife. Mercury is a toxic metal and a natural element, commonly seen as a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid metal. Mercury is a toxic persistent, bioaccumulative pollutant that affects the human nervous system. Methyl mercury is a chemical species that bioaccumulates in fish.

Fish consumption advisories are in effect for mercury in thousands of lakes and rivers.

* * *

Trader Joe's Adopts Cage-Free Egg Sales

WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - The Humane Society of the United States announced success in its No Battery Eggs campaign on Tuesday, declaring a moratorium in its four month campaign to urge Trader Joe's to improve its laying hen welfare policy.

The majority of eggs currently sold at Trader Joe's are the company's own brand eggs, laid by hundreds of thousands of hens confined in battery cages - wire enclosures so small the birds cannot even spread their wings.

Under the terms of this agreement, within three months all Trader Joe's brand eggs will be converted to cage-free eggs. And in addtion, any egg promotions by Trader Joe's will be devoted solely to cage-free egg sales.

Presently, the company sells more than 100 million Trader Joe's brand battery cage eggs per year, meaning that the company's new policy could benefit an estimated 380,000 birds.

"Trader Joe's has taken a positive step that will have a meaningful effect on animal welfare," explained HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle. "By converting its private line eggs to cage-free, Trader Joe's helps reduce the number of birds confined in cruel cages. We are, therefore, putting our Trader Joe's campaign on moratorium."

According to Trader Joe's Chairman and CEO Dan Bane, "Customers looking for cage-free eggs will need to look no further than the Trader Joe's label. We expect this change will help further boost the proportion of sales of cage-free eggs at Trader Joe's."

Since July, tens of thousands of concerned consumers have supported The HSUS's campaign. The HSUS's full-page ad in the October 5 Los Angeles Times asking, "Why Won't Trader Joe's Give an Inch?" reached hundreds of thousands of consumers and elicited tremendous response from individuals wanting to learn more about battery cage cruelty.

This agreement with Trader Joe's is the latest advancement for laying hen welfare in the United States. Earlier this year, Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace implemented exclusively cage-free egg policies, and several regional grocery chains and college cafeterias have pledged the same. Food service provider Bon Appétit - a purchaser of eight million shell eggs for its more than 55 million meals sold annually in nearly 200 dining facilities in 26 states - has begun a one year phaseout of all shell battery eggs.

* * *

Seal Rookeries Could Help Feed Endangered California Condors

STANFORD, California, November 9, 2005 (ENS) - Endangered California condors raised in captivity could be released near seal and sea lion rookeries so that the birds can once again feast on the carcasses of marine mammals as their ancestors did centuries ago.

The researchers from Stanford University and four other institutions base their conclusion on the feeding behavior of modern and early condors and their potential prey.

Writing in the November 7 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research team concludes that whales and seals have been an integral part of the condor's diet since the last Ice Age, and that current efforts by the United States government to restore wild condor populations could be enhanced if captive-bred birds are released near marine mammal breeding grounds along the West Coast.

"Condors eat carrion, they don't kill for food," says C. Page Chamberlain, lead author of the PNAS study and chair of Stanford's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

"What we're proposing is a conservation strategy to train them to start eating dead seals and sea lions, whose populations are coming back along the California coast," he said.

Standing nearly five feet tall with a wingspan that stretches 9.5 feet, the California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, is the largest bird in North America. Thousands are believed to have inhabited the continent during the last Ice Age, their range extending from British Columbia to Baja California and east into Texas, Florida and New York.

Fewer than 300 are alive today, the majority recently bred and hatched in zoos as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California Condor Recovery Program - a federally supported effort is to establish self-sustaining condor populations in the wild.

Since 1992, program affiliates have released a total of about 130 captive-bred birds in wild areas of California, northern Mexico and near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Newly released condors are fed stillborn calves donated by local cattle ranchers. Eventually, the birds supplement their diet with carcasses of deer, boar and other terrestrial wildlife they happen to find. But many of these animals are killed by hunters using lead shot, which is highly toxic to scavengers.

"Condors are obligate scavengers, so they'll feed on anything that's there," Chamberlain says. "If they consume just a small lead fragment, it can kill them."

"The decline of the condor was all man-induced," Chamberlain explains. "The megafauna are wiped out by early Ice Age humans, so the condors have to feed on marine carcasses along the coast. Then people come over again and killed seals, whales and sea lions, so the condors had to feed on cattle. Then we change our ranching practices so cattle disappear, and all the birds have left are lead-contaminated deer carcasses and the calves we supplement them with."

Chamberlain sees three options for Condor Recovery Program. "They could feed them 100 percent on calves, then they're less likely to get lead poisoning. They could eliminate lead from the ammunition, which would require legislation or a major change in hunting practices. Third, and this is what we're suggesting, you could train them on another food source that reduces their chances of lead contamination, and that would be the marine mammals."

Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS), is co-author of the PNAS study. Since 1998, VWS has released more than 30 captive-bred condors in Big Sur, a remote mountainous region overlooking California's central coast.

"We believe that marine mammals - primarily sea lion carcasses that wash up on the beach - now represent about 50 percent of the Big Sur population's diet," Sorenson says. "That's really exciting, because it means a much lower lead exposure for the condors."

He says that plans are under way to build a new holding pen along the coast south of Big Sur where seals frequently haul out. "Free-flying condors are just not finding these areas yet so we need to encourage them to do so." Other major haul-outs can be found from Baja California to British Columbia.

"If we can train condors to find sites along the beach where there are seals and sea lions all the time, then they'll frequent those spots and it will get them off some of the terrestrial sources with lead poisoning," Chamberlain concludes. "It would be fabulous some day to see condors feeding all along the coast, from Mexico to Canada, the way they did when the Europeans arrived here three centuries ago."

* * *