AmeriScan: November 1, 2006

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National Wildlife Refuge Funding Cut By 10 Percent

WASHINGTON, DC, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - The Bush administration has ordered a 10 percent across-the-board cutback in funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System, leaving dozens of refuges without any assigned staff, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The Refuge System, a part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will see declining budgets through 2011 under the Bush plan, despite significant increases in the number of refuges, visitors and an array of other costs, according to PEER, a national association of government employees in natural resources agencies.

PEER says that since Congress has yet to act on the Fish and Wildlife Service budget for FY 2007, the Bush administration is implementing the cuts without waiting for Congressional approval.

Each of the seven Fish and Wildlife Service regional offices across the country is now planning to absorb the budget cuts.

The Southeast Region, with the largest number of refuges, 128, will eliminate approximately 80 staff positions, leaving 43 of its refuges with no staff at all, a condition the agency calls "Preservation Status."

Southeast Regional Director Sam Hamilton and Regional Refuge Chief Jon Andrew established three teams to address these issues for refuges in the Southeast.

The Field Team developed a three year plan that will strategically guide the Region through a period of flat or declining budgets. The Regional Office Team addressed the Director’s charge to reduce the Regional Office by 10 percent within two years and move those dollar savings to the field. The Outreach Team will provide information to employees; friend’s groups; state, federal, and nongovernment partners; Congressional; and other interested parties

More than half of the refuges in the Southeast Region will be left with fewer than three staff positions.

"Make no mistake about it – this is the first stage in dismantling the National Wildlife Refuge System," said Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. "It took a century to build this network of wildlife sanctuaries into the envy of the world but much of that work is being undone in just this decade."

"Redirecting a tiny fraction of what audits show is wasted or stolen in Iraq would allow for full funding of all refuge system needs," added Hocutt, noting that the U.S. is spending an estimated $177 million per day in Iraq."

Established by President Theodore Roosevelt, the National Wildlife Refuge System now covers 96 million acres and encompasses 545 individual refuges and 37 wetlands management areas. Apart from providing critical wildlife habitat, national refuges are a major recreational outlet, with an estimated 40 million visitors each year, including hunters and anglers. There is at least one refuge located within an hour’s drive of every major city in the U.S.

The Bush administration is proposing a slight decrease in the $380 million refuge budget. Given rising costs and more refuge units - 17 new refuges have been established since 2001 - this posture of flat-lining the budget amounts to a significant resource reduction in real terms.

The refuge system is also laboring under a $3.1 billion operations and maintenance backlog.

"If Teddy Roosevelt knew what was happening to his legacy," said Hocutt, "he would be spinning in his grave."

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Albuquerque the New Business Center for U.S. Forest Service

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that the U.S. Forest Service is undertaking "the most significant change to its business practices since its founding in 1905" by centralizing many of its business operations, including "human capital management," in Albuquerque.

"Centralizing the Forest Service's administrative services makes good common sense and aligns with the President's goal of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs," said Johanns. "This change enables the Forest Service to redirect crucial funds from administrative functions back to mission-critical programs."

Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey, U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and Congresswoman Heather Wilson today joined Johanns at the Forest Service's Albuquerque Service Center to tour the facility north of downtown Albuquerque.

The Service Center currently has 109 employees providing human resource services to 4,530 Forest Service employees.

By September 2007, the center will have 360 employees located in Albuquerque serving approximately 39,000 Forest Service employees.

The Forest Service is expecting approximately 100 positions at the Albuquerque center to be made available for employment opportunities in the near future. Information about the positions, qualifications and on-line applications may be found at the Office of Personnel Management website at: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/.

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New Mexico Governor Plans Green Energy Tax Credits

SANTA FE, New Mexico, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - Governor Bill Richardson's legislative agenda in the areas of clean energy and a clean environment relies on tax incentives, biofuels and green buildings that he says will make New Mexico the nation’s Clean Energy State.

Announced Tuesday in Santa Fe, the governor's plan includes a $23 million investment in energy efficiency and green buildings, $9.6 million for land, wildlife, and clean energy projects, and $3 million in tax incentives for biofuels, energy efficient appliances and renewable energy manufacturers.

"Everyone, from the big newspaper columnists, to the average commuter, knows that clean, green, energy independence is the major issue of our time," said Governor Richardson. "As the New York Times’ Tom Friedman said recently ‘green is the new red, white and blue -- and the next great American national security project.’ That’s why today I am announcing our next steps toward a cleaner, more secure, energy future."

A former secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, Richardson proposes increasing the funding available for public school facilities by four percent to help build green public schools across the state. School projects that achieve a minimum rating of "LEED™ Silver" and can show a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency will be eligible for this funding.

The governor said he will propose a tax credit to promote green offices and homes, and a tax cut for certified Energy Star appliances. On efficient large appliances like refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers and water heaters, the governor will propose a one month tax holiday for New Mexico consumers.

Richardson proposes tax credits for use and distribution of biofuels like biodiesel and much stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards for new cars and trucks sold in New Mexico.

The governor proposes to increase the percentage of electricity New Mexico utilities are required to generate from renewable sources, called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, RPS, to 15 percent by 2015, and work with our utility partners in the state to achieve 25 percent by 2020.

The state’s current RPS mandates that five percent of New Mexico’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2006, increasing to 10 percent by 2011.

Governor Richardson will propose a land conservation fund with a portion of the proceeds from the existing Oil Conservation Tax – about $9.6 million this year. This funding will support land, wildlife, and clean energy projects such as help ranchers looking to diversify into wind energy production, fund local communities looking to create trails and provide a resource for hunters and anglers who want to protect wildlife habitat.

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Massachusetts Sanitary District Must Stop Sewage Overflow

BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - Federal and State environmental officials today announced agreement with the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District in northeastern Massachusetts, to settle alleged violations of clean water laws and government permits.

Under a civil Complaint and Consent Decree simultaneously filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, GLSD, will pay a $254,000 fine and invest in an $18 million sewage treatment plant upgrade.

These steps resolve allegations that GLSD’s combined sewer collection system had discharges from combined sewer overflow, CSO, outfalls, violating state water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria, indicating a significant human health risk. Combined sewer overflow discharges generally occur during or after significant rainstorms, when a mixture of storm water and domestic waste exceeds the flow capacity of the combined sewer system, resulting in untreated sewage being released into the environment.

“Thanks to close coordination and strong efforts by state and federal agencies, GLSD is making improvements to its treatment plant that will better protect public health and the aquatic ecosystem of the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office.

“This settlement will bring great benefits to Lawrence and other downstream communities by reducing the number of times that sewer waste is discharged during rainy weather in the areas where people fish and recreate along the Merrimack River,” Varney said.

Under the settlement, GLSD will pay a total penalty of $254,000 - $127,000 to the United States, and $127,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The District will be required to increase its monthly average treatment plant capacity from 52 million gallons per day to a maximum peak secondary treatment capacity of 135 MGD by December 31, 2007, thereby reducing the number of CSO discharge events annually.

“This law enforcement action under the Clean Water Act has resulted in GLSD’s commitment to funding and construction of significant upgrades in its treatment of sewage generated by the towns of Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, North Andover and Salem, N.H.,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan. “The upgrades will reduce the discharge into the Spicket and Merrimack Rivers of untreated sewage and untreated water runoff from the streets."

The GLSD owns and operates a 52 MGD secondary treatment plant in North Andover that discharges to the Merrimack River. It serves member communities of Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, and North Andover, as well as Salem, New Hampshire.

GLSD also owns and operates an interceptor sewer system designed to receive wastewater flow from the member communities. The interceptor sewer system includes five CSO outfalls that discharge a mixture of wastewater and stormwater to the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers during wet weather when the capacity of the treatment works and conveyance is exceeded.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also moved to intervene and filed its own Complaint.

"The substantial sewage plant upgrades this agreement requires mean cleaner water and better health for the Merrimack and Spicket Rivers," Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said. "With this settlement, the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District is taking some very positive steps and we will continue to work with the District, MassDEP, and the federal government to protect the public health and preserve our natural resources."

The discharges are located in a densely developed area of Lawrence where people fish and boat near and downstream of the discharge locations. Shellfish beds downstream from the discharge points are also affected. In a typical year there are about 14 discharge events, during which the CSO outfalls discharge approximately 112 million gallons of combined sewage.

“The Merrimack River is a vital lifeline for Lawrence and its neighbors, and any threat to its use as a shellfishing or recreational resource must be mitigated,” MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O’Donnell said. “This agreement will help protect the riverway and its downstream uses, and elevate the quality-of-life for residents of the Merrimack Valley.”

GLSD must submit a post-construction monitoring report to EPA and Massachusetts by March 31, 2009 which evaluates the effectiveness of the increased capacity at reducing discharges from CSO outfalls. A revised Long-Term Control Plan is required by June 30, 2010.

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Global Warming Persists in Shift to Service Economy

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - The shift toward a service-based economy will not automatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a University of Minnesota researcher concludes, contradicting assumptions about global warming preferred by some economists and national policy experts.

Sangwon Suh, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's bioproducts and biosystems engineering department, uses a "life-cycle assessment" approach to quantify the environmental effect of products and services, taking into account all the materials and energy used to create a product or a service throughout its life-cycle.

His study is published in today's issue of "Environment, Science and Technology," a semi-monthly journal published by the American Chemical Society.

For this research, Suh analyzed 44 emissions generated by service industries, such as retail, hospitals or real estate, which comprise more than 60 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and are an increasingly large part of the U.S. economy.

Suh says his findings do not support the idea that the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted will be reduced as the economy shifts toward more services and less heavy industry, because service industries are not necessarily cleaner."

While service industries directly create only about five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions themselves, when the entire life cycle of a service-related product is taken into account, the picture changes.

Suh's research confirmed that service industries consume large quantities of electricity, natural gas, transportation, building installations and manufactured goods, which generate greenhouse gases.

Suh says, "Some economists are advocating that development is the answer to pollution and poverty in poor countries as service becomes the dominating sector in the course of development. If the United States, the most developed country in the world, is already the biggest greenhouse gas producer, then it doesn't make sense that development will be the answer to poor countries' problems."

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Elephants Recognize Themselves in Mirror Images

NEW YORK, New York, November 1, 2006 (ENS) - Three female elephants at the New York's Bronx Zoo recognized themselves in an enormous mirror set up in their enclosure as a scientific study by the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the zoo and two other research centers. The only other species showing this degree of self-awareness are humans, great apes, and dolphins.

In front of the eight by eight foot mirror, the elephants tested their mirrored images by making repetitive body movements and using the mirror to inspect themselves, such as by moving their trunks to inspect the insides of their mouths, a part of the body they usually cannot see.

The animals did not react socially to their images, as many animals do, and did not seem to mistake their reflection for that of another elephant.

This newly found presence of mirror self-recognition in elephants, previously predicted due to their well-known social complexity, is thought to relate to empathetic tendencies and the ability to distinguish oneself from others, a characteristic that evolved independently in several branches of animals, including primates such as humans.

This collaborative study by Yerkes researchers Joshua Plotnik and Frans de Waal, PhD, director of Yerkes' Living Links Center, and WCS researcher Diana Reiss, PhD, published in the early online edition of the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was conducted as part of a wide array of cognitive and behavioral evolution research topics at Yerkes' Living Links Center.

"We see highly complex behaviors such as self awareness and self-other distinction in intelligent animals with well established social systems," said Plotnik. "The social complexity of the elephant, its well-known altruistic behavior and, of course, its huge brain, made the elephant a logical candidate species for testing in front of a mirror."

"Elephants have been tested in front of mirrors before, but previous studies used relatively small mirrors kept out of the elephants' reach," said Plotnik. "This study is the first to test the animals in front of a huge mirror they could touch, rub against and try to look behind."

One elephant also passed a standard test known as the mark test. Each elephant was marked with visible paint on its forehead-a place it could not see without a mirror-and also received a sham mark of colorless face paint. The sham mark controlled for tactile and odor cues to ensure touching the visible mark was due to seeing its reflection and not to the feel or smell of the paint.

This test produced the same results as when great apes and human children are presented with the mark test.

"As a result of this study, the elephant now joins a cognitive elite among animals commensurate with its well-known complex social life and high level of intelligence," said de Waal.

"Although elephants are far more distantly related to us than the great apes, they seem to have evolved similar social and cognitive capacities making complex social systems and intelligence part of this picture. These parallels between humans and elephants suggest a convergent cognitive evolution possibly related to complex sociality and cooperation."

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