AmeriScan: November 30, 2006

* * *

House Democrats Attempt to Stop EPA Library Closures

WASHINGTON, DC, November 30, 2006 (ENS) - Democratic House leaders today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to immediately stop efforts to close libraries across the country pending a review by Congress.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, Ranking Members Congressmen Bart Gordon of Tennessee, John Dingell of Michigan, Henry Waxman of California, and James Oberstar of Minnesota expressed their concerns over the current implementation of "library reorganization" plans and the "destruction or disposition" of library holdings.

"It is imperative that the valuable government information maintained by EPA's libraries be preserved," wrote the ranking members.

This letter to the administrator follows a successful effort earlier this fall by the Congressmen to initiate a Government Accountability Office, GAO, investigation of current EPA actions regarding their libraries and informational resources. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has begun its review.

The Congressmen write in their letter to the administrator that the EPA is closing libraries and dispersing resources in accordance with an administration budget directive that has neither been approved nor formally enacted by Congress.

Implementation of the library reorganization is proceeding at a rapid pace. Reports of the library closures, information destruction, and property auctions continue to surface despite the objections to the plan raised by EPA professional staff, EPA employee union representatives and the American Library Association.

The four Congressmen say they want to ensure that EPA actions do not undermine the integrity and value of the public information available at these libraries.

* * *

Pilots Enabled to Steer Clear of Icy Skies

BOULDER, Colorado, November 30, 2006 (ENS) - Beginning December 6, aviation weather users will receive detailed updates on in-flight icing, which can endanger commuter planes and larger commercial aircraft.

Graphical displays developed by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder with funding from the Federal Aviation Administration will for the first time rate areas by icing severity and the probability of encountering icing conditions.

"This is a major advance that will enable dispatchers and even pilots to choose flight paths that avoid icing conditions," says Marcia Politovich, who oversees in-flight icing research at NCAR. "This product will help make commuter flights safer, and it will also enable commercial airlines to avoid the delays and excessive fuel costs associated with in-flight icing."

The displays are part of an upgrade to a system called CIP, for Current Icing Product. They will be available to air traffic controllers, pilots, and other aviation weather users.

When ice builds up on aircraft wings, it can increase the drag on the airplane and make staying aloft more difficult. Even when aircraft are certified to fly through icing conditions, the risk can prompt pilots to detour for hundreds of miles.

The enhanced in-flight icing information product is intended to increase safety and reduce flight delays by guiding aircraft away from potentially hazardous icing conditions, saving the aviation industry what NCAR estimates will be more than $20 million per year in injuries, aircraft damage, and fuel.

A major advance over the previous version of the CIP is that pilots will be able to access the maps in the cockpit, helping them to make course adjustments as needed.

The new version of CIP, which is updated hourly with selectable altitudes up to 29,000 feet, incorporates more advanced weather prediction models and more detailed observations. It quantifies the probability of icing encounters and their likely severity.

A study by the National Transportation Safety Board found that in-flight icing was responsible for dozens of accidents a year, mostly among smaller, general aviation aircraft. An estimated 819 people died in accidents related to in-flight icing from 1982 to 2000, with most accidents occurring between the months of October and March.

* * *

First Tsunami Detection Buoy Deployed to Indian Ocean

PHUKET, Thailand, November 30, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, has joined the government of Thailand in launching the first Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami, DART, buoy station in the Indian Ocean to detect tsunamis.

Following a ceremony in Phuket, Thailand, where the December 26, 2004 tsunami caused the most extensive damage in Thailand, the a NOAA vessel set sail today to deploy the buoy about mid-way between Thailand and Sri Lanka.

NOAA built and provided the DART station on behalf of the U.S. government. The buoy will be maintained by the Thai Meteorological Department and National Disaster Warning Center.

The station's data will be available to all nations through the World Meteorological Organization Global Telecommunications System and will be part of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

The Thai buoy is the first of 22 tsunameters planned for the Indian Ocean's regional tsunami warning system. NOAA will provide a second DART buoy further to the south in the spring of 2007.

This is part of an end-to-end warning system that includes tide gauges, communications upgrades, modeling, and dissemination systems for five countries - Indonesia, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Until a regional tsunami warning capability is established, NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, in Hawaii, and the Japan Meteorological Agency, are providing tsunami advisory and watches alerts to 27 Indian Ocean countries on an interim basis.

The individual countries then determine if and how they issue a warning to their populations.

* * *

Oil, Gas Producers Say Restrictions Block Development

WASHINGTON, DC, November 30, 2006 - The U.S. Department of the Interior released a report Tuesday showing that only three percent of onshore federal oil and 13 percent onshore federal gas are accessible to America's oil and gas producers under standard lease terms.

The 99 million acres inventoried by the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is estimated to contain 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 21 billion barrels of oil, however, due to bans, federal restrictions and bureaucratic delays the majority of this public resource is closed to development.

The study finds that 46 percent of onshore federal oil and 60 percent of onshore federal gas have the potential to be developed but are subject to significant restrictions and impediments.

The nation's independent oil and natural gas producers, who drill 90 percent of the nation's oil and gas wells, are urging federal lawmakers to use the results of this study to develop policies that streamline regulatory burdens placed on American oil and gas development.

"This report clearly demonstrates the distinction between what is available and what is accessible," said Mike Linn, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and president of Linn Energy based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Among the impediments to oil and gas exploration are - federal agencies delaying permits while revising environmental impact statements; litigation on Resource Management Plans designed to delay access; and permit requirements that prevent production.

In some cases, oil and gas producers are paying the costs of Environmental Impact Statements - a cost that is supposed to be incurred by the government and can cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Mat Millenbach, a longtime BLM employee and former state director in Montana who left in 2002, told the "Los Angeles Times" in 2004 that he became concerned when the Bush administration began referring to wildlife protections as "impediments" to leasing.

"Those restrictions were coined as a way to enact multiple use of public land - to preserve wildlife while allowing oil and gas development. It was never intended as an impediment," Millenbach said. "It was intended to allow development while preserving another important resource, wildlife."

To increase supplies of oil and gas, the Bush administration has pushed for approval of new drilling permits across the Rocky Mountains and lifted protections on hundreds of thousands of acres with gas and oil reserves in Utah and Colorado. The BLM has been directed to issue drilling permits at a record pace, an increase of 70 percent since the Clinton administration. Drilling leases have been granted in places valued for their scenery, abundant wildlife and clean water, raising cries of protest from conservationists.

The Wilderness Society warns, "The Bush administration has pulled out all the stops to ramp up oil and gas leasing on public lands, with a target of drilling more than 118,000 new wells within the next two decades. This accelerated level of drilling could mar upwards of one million acres of our public lands, and some of the places being targeted are irreplaceable for their solitude, wilderness and wildlife habitat."

"At risk are municipal watersheds, proposed wilderness, and remarkable places like Wyoming's Upper Green River Valley, an irreplaceable big game migration corridor," says the environmental group.

The Independent Petroleum Association says there is enough onshore oil and natural gas available in the United States to "significantly alleviate the burden on American consumers while strengthening our energy security.

However," the producers say, "these public resources are not accessible because regulatory barriers and antiquated policies prevent the responsible development of these resources."

* * *

High Plains Farmers Support Playa Lakes Conservation

LAFAYETTE, Colorado, November 30, 2006 (ENS) - A new survey commissioned by the Playa Lakes Joint Venture found that most landowners with seasonal wetlands known as playas are willing to conserve them. Many say the wetlands are a positive presence on the land, primarily because they attract wildlife.

The Playa Lakes Joint Venture, PLJV, is a partnership of state and federal wildlife and agriculture agencies, national and local conservation groups, businesses and private landowners that works to conserve playas, other wetlands and grasslands for the benefit of birds, wildlife and people.

Playas are seasonal wetlands found throughout the southern and western high plains. There are more than 60,000 playas, or 500,000 playa acres, in a six state area of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

"The results are encouraging for wildlife and wetlands conservation, especially going into the next Farm Bill reauthorization process," said PLJV Coordinator Mike Carter. "I think we and our partners need to ensure that wetlands and playa conservation programs are given greater attention in the next Farm Bill."

The Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization in Congress next year.

Playas are the primary source of recharge for the Ogallala Aquifer and are critical habitat for migratory and resident birds and other wildlife in the region.

But more than 70 percent of all playas have been altered from their natural state and have lost much of their wetland values.

Sedimentation is the number one threat to playas, and more than 50 percent of the wetlands have been buried by eroded soils and are effectively 'fossilized' and no longer function as wetlands.

The High Plains Landowner Survey 2006: Farmers, Ranchers and Conservation shows that a majority of playa landowners, 74 percent, were willing to plant native grass buffers around playas if given an incentive, which is the function of Farm Bill programs like the Farmable Wetlands Program and Wetlands Conservation Non-Floodplain Initiative.

Grass buffers protect playas by filtering out eroded soils from surrounding cropland that can wash into and bury playa basins, and by filtering out contaminants from irrigation and stormwater runoff.

Survey data also revealed that landowners like playas and the wildlife they attract.

Bill Smithton, an Oklahoma farmer who manages land in Harper County, said, "If one has a playa lake, I'd tell him he should consider enrolling it into a playa conservation program. It wouldn't be in for long before he realizes the direct benefits."

The High Plains Landowner Survey was conducted from March through May 2006, by DJ Case and Associates. The 21 question survey was mailed to 1,800 landowners randomly selected from a Farm Service Agency list of agricultural producers in a six state region that includes portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Complete survey results and executive summary are available on the PLJV's web site:

* * *

Wildlife Advocates File Suit to Replace Lead Ammo

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 30, 2006 (ENS) - A coalition of hunters, Native Americans, and health and conservation organizations filed suit today against the California Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Game for allowing toxic lead ammunition that is poisoning rare California condors although lead-free ammunition is available.

The Wishtoyo Foundation, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Center for Biological Diversity, along with representatives from the hunting community brought suit under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The safety of our families and healthy wildlife are important to hunters across California,” said Anthony Prieto, a hunter and plaintiff in the case. “There’s a simple solution that lets hunters hunt while protecting condors, eagles, and other wildlife; it’s lead-free ammo. I know from experience that these bullets are safe and ballistically outperform bullets made from lead.”

The California condor is one of the most imperiled birds in the world. They were so close to extinction that in 1982, the last 22 wild birds were rounded up as part of a captive breeding program.

The government began releasing condors back into the wild in 1992, but scientists say that lead poisoning is likely responsible for killing as many as 46 of the 127 birds that have been released in California.

Condors are exposed to lead when they encounter carcasses or the remains of animals cleaned by hunters in the field. Microscopic lead particles are widespread throughout game shot with lead ammunition. Condors also can mistake bullet fragments for the calcium-rich bone they require. The birds absorb the toxic metal more quickly than other raptors and expel it less efficiently.

“Condors are critical to our culture and to our religion,” said Mati Waiya, a Chumash ceremonial leader and the executive director of the Wishtoyo Foundation, a Native American organization in central California. “But they will not survive so long as we continue to allow them to be poisoned by lead."

Non-lead ammunition also is safer for hunters and their families, or anyone who eats game, which often contains shot or small metal fragments.

“My mother fell ill earlier this year after accidentally ingesting lead fragments in venison from a deer that I shot,” said Leif Bierer, another hunter and plaintiff. “This is a real threat to hunters and their families.”

Lead is a toxic element that can cause brain damage, kidney disease, high blood pressure, as well as reproductive and neurological disorders.

* * *