AmeriScan: October 15, 2004

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Wyoming Judge Kills Yellowstone Snowmobile Ban

CHEYENNE, Wyoming, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - The same federal court judge who blocked the Roadless Rule put in place by President Bill Clinton has overturned a Clinton era snowmobile ban in Yellowstone National Park.

Wyoming U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer today issued an opinion striking down the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, leaving the rules governing the snow machines in limbo with the winter season approaching.

"The 2001 Snowcoach Rule was the product of a prejudged, political decision to ban snowmobiles from all the national parks," Brimmer wrote in an opinion released today.

The Brimmer ruling pleased snowmobile businesses, winter resorts and Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal.

Conservation organizations are considering what legal options they can exercise to keep the noisy, polluting machines out of the national park. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that a single snowmobile discharges as much air pollution as about 100 cars.

The Clinton ban went into effect in 2001, but was voided under a settlement agreement brokered by the Bush administration. The new rules allowed limited numbers of snowmobiles into the parks.

But another judge entered the picture when U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington set aside the Bush regulations last year and brought back the Clinton ban.

Judge Brimmer, ruling on a different lawsuit filed in Wyoming, issued a temporary injunction in February, blocking implementation of the Clinton ban, and ordering the National Park Service to write temporary rules for the remaining winter months. The temporary rules allowed 780 snowmobiles to enter Yellowstone park per day. Previously, 493 snowmobiles were allowed per day.

For Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, 140 snowmobiles were allowed each day.

Now both the 2001 Clinton snowmobile ban and the 2003 Bush administration plan have been struck down by federal courts, and no formal rule exists governing the presence of snowmobiles in the two parks.

A new snowmobile rule for Yellowstone and Grand Teton is expected from the National Park Service next month.

The merits of that rule need to have their day in court," attorney Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice argued in September on behalf of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition which opposes snowmobiles in the parks.

Both sides agreed in the September court appearance that if Judge Brimmer ruled against the 2001 Clinton ban, as he has now done, the Park Service would have to revert, at least temporarily, to its 1983 rule allowing unregulated snowmobiling.

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Medfly Emergency at the Mexican Border

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - The latest unwelcome immigrants are tiny flies that have the potential to ruin the lucrative agricultural industry on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. Detection of the Mediterranean fruit fly in Tijuana, Mexico last month has agricultural and customs officials from the United States and Mexico on high alert.

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) said Thursday that emergency measures to protect U.S. agricultural resources are being taken at all land-border ports in California, Arizona, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, following detection and confirmation of the pest in Tijuana September 16.

The medfly lays its eggs just beneath the skin of ripening produce. The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on the fruit or vegetable, making it unfit for human consumption. More than 250 different types of commodities, including fruits, nuts and vegetables, can be affected.

On September 24 the Plant Protection and Quarantine division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established emergency measures and prohibited entry of Medfly host material originating from, packed in, or stored in Tijuana in order to prevent the movement of the pest to other regions.

The Mexican government said at a September 28 news conference in Tijuana that it had instituted a quarantine restricting the movement of fruit and vegetables in that city.

Mexican and U.S. officials are cooperating on aerial spraying and other measures to prevent the spread of the pest.

Shipments of agricultural commodities on the medfly host list into the United States require a phytosanitary certificate from the USDA, as well as a special declaration indicating that the cargo originated outside Mexico's Baja California area and was not packed in or shipped through that region.

In addition, border patrol officers will confiscate any produce found on people detained at border checkpoints in San Diego and other locations. The produce will be placed in special bins and transported to the nearest port of entry several times a week for examination by CBP agriculture specialists.

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Klamath Basin Cooperation Sought to Dissolve Water Woes

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - Bush administration officials and the governors of Oregon and California have committed themselves to resolving the long-standing water conflict between farmers and fishers in the Klamath Basin, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced Wednesday.

Kills of juvenile salmon have become the norm on the Klamath River in the past decade. Lakes have been drained and the river retained behind dams to make way for irrigated agriculture. The trickle of water left for returning salmon is polluted with pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste. Wildlife is in decline, and three types of fish in the region are listed as endangered species.

Farmers and fishers have been at loggerheads over the scarce water, and the situation has been worsened by the past six dry years, unusual in the Pacific Northwest.

Norton announced an agreement between four federal agencies, the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and the states of Oregon and California, to collaborate in Klamath River watershed activities.

On a conference call with reporters from Duluth, Minnesota, Norton stressed that the agreement will focus on and prioritize mutual efforts in the entire Klamath watershed. The signatories, together with tribal and local governments, environmentalists and farmers are expected to resolve water quantity, water quality, and fish and wildlife resource problems in the entire basin.

"Specifically, this will include coordinating work to recover threatened and endangered fish, enhance anadromous fish runs, improve wildlife habitat and water quality, and provide water for irrigation and other beneficial uses," Norton said.

"The agreement confirms that each party will set its own budget priorities, but encourages joint awareness of one another's plans and collaborative action based on common goals."

Farmers applauded the agreement. "This is a great step forward, and we’re looking forward to working with this intergovernmental group to solve the challenges of the Klamath River on a coordinated, watershed-wide basis," said Steve Kandra, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents the farmers.

But some environmentalists said the agreement was a ploy to divert negative attention from the electioneering visit of President George W. Bush to Oregon.

In 2002, Klamath Basin farmers broke open irrigation gates to let water into their dry irrigation ditches after the government released water down the river to benefit salmon and wildlife.

Norton then decided to divert water from the river to their farms, but a few months later, in September 2002, the largest fish kill on record occurred when salmon returning from the ocean to spawn upstream found little water in the river.

This year stakeholders have said they are tired of fighting, and some progress has been made. More water was released down the Trinity and Klamath rivers to prevent a repeat of the 2002 die-off, and $16 million has been spent on habitat restoration.

On Wednesday's call, California Secretary of Resources Mike Chrisman, representing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and David Van't Hof, natural resource advisor to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, said the governors were willing to participate in the cooperative effort.

In addition to the two governors, signatories to the agreement include Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, and Norton.

"The people of the Klamath Basin cherish the land and its natural beauty and desire to hand their way of life down to future generations," Norton said. "Together, we have an opportunity to work toward a vision that includes clear waters, abundant fisheries, increased waterfowl, a vibrant agricultural community, and an end to the legal fighting among the various interests, which continues to poison the relationships among its people."

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U.S. Nuclear Test Compensation Fund Going Broke

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - A fund established by the American government to compensate Marshall Islanders exposed to radiation during 67 nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific is nearly exhausted.

The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal said that as of October 21, it will be able to make only partial payments to more than 1,700 residents suffering radiation sickness.

When it was set up in 1986, the $150 million fund was supposed to be "full and final compensation" for atmospheric nuclear weapons testing the United States conducted in the chain of Pacific islands in the 1940s and 1950s, starting after the Second World War.

The tribunal says it owes about US$15 million in personal injury awards, but there is less than US$6 million left in the account.

By the end of 2003, the Tribunal had awarded more than $83 million in compensation for such injuries with additional compensable claims being filed on a regular basis.

In addition, the Tribunal has awarded over $1 billion in property damage awards in the class actions of the people of Enewetak Atoll and the people of Bikini Atoll.

The pending property claims from the peoples of Rongelap and Utrik Atolls are near completion, while the people of Ailuk Atoll have recently filed a class action claim for compensation.

The Tribunal stopped accepting property damage claims at the end of August.

In 1991, the Tribunal first implemented a compensation program for personal injuries resulting from the nuclear testing program.

With only $45.75 million made available for actual payment of awards made by the Tribunal during the first 15 years of the Compact and less than $6 million of the initial $150 million now remaining in the Nuclear Claims Fund, it has become clear that the original terms of the settlement agreement are manifestly "manifestly inadequate," the Tribunal said.

Over the past four years the Tribunal has repeatedly sought additional funds from Congress, without success.

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Toxic Ghost Ships in Court Again

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - An attorney for two conservation organizations told a federal judge today that the Bush administration's plans to export obsolete naval vessels from Virginia to England for scrapping violates U.S. and international laws that ban or regulate the export of toxics.

The so-called "ghost fleet" vessels contain tons of carcinogenic PCBs, asbestos, used fuel, oils and other toxic substances.

Toxic trade watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN), Sierra Club, and their counsel Earthjustice, say that as a result of the legal pressure and public attention placed on this dubious export practice, more of the ghost fleet vessels are being released to domestic scrappers and no more plans for export have been openly discussed.

In October 2003, legal action by the conservation and public health groups prevented the export of nine of 13 of the ghost ships for disposal in England.

The court did allow four old ships to be towed across the Atlantic in the fall of 2003 and those vessels now lay moored in legal limbo in Teesside, England because the intended scrap yard, Able UK, is not permitted to handle toxic waste.

Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered that the remaining nine vessels in the contract remain in Virginia pending the court's final decision.

"The Bush administration's original plan to export these vessels overseas was a stealth attempt to undermine international law," said Jim Puckett of BAN. "First, a few of these vessels would be shunted off to the UK, thereby setting the legal precedent to open the floodgates for exports to China, India, or Bangladesh where workers are getting cancer and the scrapping is done on the cheap."

Under the Toxics Substances Control Act, it is illegal to export PCBs, without a special exemption granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after public hearings. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and under a treaty between the United States and England, it is illegal to export hazardous wastes unless the proposed receiving facility is properly licensed and the receiving nation has consented. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, an environmental impact statement had to be prepared for the export scheme.

Today, the groups went back to court to ensure that the agency complies with all of these laws regarding the export of hazardous wastes.

"The plan to scrap U.S. vessels in England ignores the fact that American firms could do the job more safely," said Michael Town of the Sierra Club in Virginia. "Why didn't the Bush administration send this work to American ship breakers from the outset? We aren't sure, but hopefully the court will put an end to the administration's ill-conceived plan."

Since the court stopped the towing of the other nine vessels to England, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) has contracted with four American ship breakers to scrap these and about two dozen other high priority vessels.

MARAD administers the National Defense Reserve Fleet, which holds ships designated as being useful for defense. When the ships deteriorate, they are made available for disposal. There are approximately 110 obsolete vessels located in the three fleet sites of the National Defense Reserve Fleet; 60 of them are located in the James River Reserve Fleet in Newport News, Virginia.

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New Jersey Parks, Forests Yield $1.2 Billion Per Year

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - New Jersey's 39 parks and 11 forests provide economic benefits amounting to at least $1.2 billion per year, or $30 billion over a 25 year period, according to a study released Thursday by Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell.

The study, entitled "The Economic Value of New Jersey State Parks and Forests," was conducted by the DEP's Division of Science, Research and Technology. It found that New Jersey's parks and forests create almost 14,000 jobs, positively impact property values and provide enhanced public services including education.

Governor James McGreevey said, "This study confirms that our investments in open space preservation pay off. When we preserve open space, not only do we protect the environment and provide recreational opportunities for families, we help boost the state's economy."

"This study quantifies the importance of New Jersey's state parks and forests as an asset to our economy and underscores the necessity of maintaining our natural open space," said Campbell. "We get the best return on our investment by nurturing our parklands and forest resources."

The study found that New Jersey's parks and forests provide $812 million in benefits from recreation and tourism each year, including the indirect economic activity generated by recreation and tourism expenditures.

The park system also provides benefits of $228 million a year from the operating and capital expenditures for the State Parks and Forests, including the indirect economic activity that those expenditures generate.

Benefits worth at least $140 million are annually derived from the parks system's ecosystem services, such as watershed and groundwater protection, flood control, water purification, wildlife conservation, biodiversity preservation, and storage of carbon, the leading greenhouse gas.

Indirect economic activity derives from the "ripple" effect that spreads through the New Jersey economy as a result of consumer spending related to state parks and forests, Campbell said.

When park visitors spend money on items such as food, lodging and gasoline, the businesses that provide those goods pay wages and taxes and make purchases from their suppliers. Their employees and suppliers in turn spend the money they receive, creating a ripple effect.

With almost 400,000 acres, the State Parks and Forests cover about eight percent of New Jersey's total land area, compared to the U.S. average of one percent, and rank eighth in the nation and second in the Northeast in terms of acreage.

An average of approximately 15 million people per year visit the state park system's sites and facilities, versus a 50 state average of 11 million visitors per year.

The DEP Livable Community Grants Program in Fiscal Years 2003 and 2004 funded 228 park projects, located in all of New Jersey's 21 counties.

In 2002 and 2003, the Green Acres Program spent roughly $38 million to fund 50 urban park development projects and 20 urban land acquisition projects across the state.

In 2004, the Green Acres Program recommended the expenditure of $50 million for park development efforts statewide.

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All Maryland Waters Polluted With Mercury

BALTIMORE, Maryland, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - Every river and lake in the state of Maryland had a fish consumption warning slapped on it by the state last year, according to a new report released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, MaryPIRG.

The report, “Fishing for Trouble” analyzes 2003 state data on fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.

“MaryPIRG’s analysis finds that mercury contamination is a danger at many of Maryland’s favorite fishing spots,” said Chris Fick, MaryPIRG’s field organizer. “The health risk numbers are outrageous."

Nationwide, fish consumption advisories were issued covering more than 13.1 million acres of lakes and 767,000 miles of river.

MaryPIRG’s report is timed to influence public opinion on the Bush administration's proposed cap and trade rule to deal with mercury emissions from power plants.

The plan allows facilities to buy mercury pollution credits from facilities located far away instead of reducing their own emissions, a practice that MaryPIRG believes will allow mercury to continue to pollute Maryland waterways.

Power plants are the nation’s single largest source of mercury pollution, contributing 41 percent of U.S. mercury emissions.

MaryPIRG and other conservation groups maintain that if the Clean Air Act, as written, were enforced instead of substituting the cap and trade plan, the air would be cleaner and less mercury would be deposited in the waters of Maryland and other states where it is absorbed by fish.

MaryPIRG says the Bush proposal allows power plants to emit six times more mercury over the next decade than the Clean Air Act allows and would delay meaningful reductions until 2018, at the earliest.

"The technology is available to reduce power plant mercury emissions by at least 90 percent by 2008, as the law requires," the organization says.

Maryland officials are considering state level action. MaryPIRG called on Annapolis to take action, urging the passage of the “four pollutant” bill proposed by Delegate Jim Hubbard last year. The bill would reduce mercury emissions, as well as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, emitted from the seven dirtiest power plants in Maryland.

The bill would require reduction of mercury pollution from these plants by 90 percent. MaryPIRG said the bill should be a priority for the General Assembly in the upcoming session.

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Environmentalists Rip Victoria's Secret Catalogs

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 15, 2004 (ENS) - Forest advocates have launched a national campaign to change the behavior of Victoria’s Secret and parent company Limited Brands. The campaigners charge that Victoria’s Secret prints 395 million catalogs each year, over a million catalogs a day, mostly on virgin paper from endangered forests.

ForestEthics, a San Francisco based organization with links to Canada, has launched an ad campaign featuring a woman clad only in her underwear, shoes stockings and fake angel's wings - holding a chainsaw to symbolize forest destruction.

The campaign challenges the company to use recycled and sustainably harvested paper, and to stop using paper from the world’s last endangered forests.

“The naked truth is that the one million catalogs mailed daily by Victoria’s Secret are destroying some of the world’s last remaining old growth forests and threatening endangered species,” said Tzeporah Berman of ForestEthics. “We’re calling on Victoria’s Secret to dramatically increase its use of recycled fiber and stop buying paper from endangered forests.”

Two years of investigative research has revealed a direct link between Victoria’s Secret catalogs and the destruction of old growth and endangered forests in the boreal region that stretches across Canada's north.

The campaigners say Victoria’s Secret’s catalogs are threatening the habitat of mountain and woodland caribou in places like the Alberta foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Last March, six of the largest catalogers were warned they would be targeted by the group for their consumption of endangered forests. Since then, ForestEthics has been in discussions with all of these companies and others over environmental issues.

ForestEthics takes credit for a successful campaign against the office supply industry that resulted in a new environmental policy by Staples protecting endangered forests and increasing the overall recycled content of its paper from less than five percent to over 30 percent.

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