AmeriScan: October 18, 2005

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Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Rebuilding New Orleans Levees

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - Rebuilding the New Orleans levees breached during Hurricane Katrina will move forward at full federal expense due to a decision today from the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for civil works.

Under normal cost sharing, non-federal sponsors, which in this case are the levee boards for each parish, would be required to pay a total of approximately $249 million to repair these facilities.

"In light of the devastation to the city of New Orleans, this decision will relieve the burden from the local sponsors of providing funding and will allow us to move expeditiously toward restoring pre-storm level of protection," said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Jr.

Because of the unprecedented damage done by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, and three weeks later by Hurricane Rita, and impacts to local governments, the repairs will be entirely funded by the federal government under the Corps emergency response authority.

The restoration will be accomplished under the emergency authority of Public Law 84-99 and will provide for the coordinated restoration of the hurricane, flood and storm damage reduction projects to pre-storm conditions.

The levees surrounding much of New Orleans were breached and eroded by the force of the storm winds and waters. About 80 percent of the city of New Orleans was flooded as water from Lake Ponchartrain and the Mississippi River entered through the breaks in those levees.

On October 11, just 43 days after Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans metropolitan area, the Corps’ Task Force Unwatering Team, working together with the Orleans Parish Sewerage and Water Board and Entergy Corporation claimed victory. They had pumped over 224 billion gallons of water from the city.

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Farm Aid Sends Hay to Hurricane Survivors

SOMERVILLE, Massachusetts, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - Farm Aid will deliver supplies of hay to family farmers along the Gulf Coast hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the organization said today, and in addition will host training sessions to help farmers get access to federal disaster programs.

"Farmers are still having a heck of a time getting their lives and farms back together," said Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. "Farm Aid is committed to helping these farmers with their immediate needs, as well as working with our partners to develop long-term solutions that will help get farmers back on their feet as soon as possible."

This week, Farm Aid is shipping hundreds of hay bales to Louisiana livestock and dairy farmers who lost their hay and pastures in the storm surges. The hay is being shipped from across the country to several staging areas set up by the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center.

Farm Aid is sponsoring the first of several planned workshops across the region to train farm advocates on the latest rules and regulations related to federal farm disaster programs.

The workshops, which will take place in Epes, Alabama on Thursday and Friday, will bring together 50 advocates from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The workshops will train advocates to work one-on-one with farmers, helping them identify ways to access federal disaster assistance.

Farm Aid and its partners, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the Rural Advancement Fund International and the Farmers Legal Action Group, will take the training to other farm groups in the surrounding states during the coming weeks.

When Hurricane Katrina first hit the Gulf Coast August 29, Farm Aid activated its Family Farm Disaster Fund to bring immediate relief to farm families devastated by the storm.

Farm Aid handles hotline calls from farmers, distributes funds to farm families for emergency needs, coordinates relief efforts among its partners, hosts trainings, and ships supplies, food and hay to affected areas.

Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised awareness about the critical role of family farms and raised more than $28 million to support national, regional and local programs that promote food from family farms and strengthen family farm agriculture.

Farm Aid's 20th Anniversary Concert took place September 18 in Chicago and will air starting on Thanksgiving on INHD2, iN DEMAND's high definition network, as well as on Video-on-Demand or Pay-Per-View.

"FARM AID: A Song for America," published by Rodale, was released this fall and chronicles the series of concerts and the accomplishments of the organization that galvanized a grassroots movement for the independent family farm.

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Appeals Court Orders More Water for Klamath Salmon

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Bush administration's water diversion plan for the Klamath River because it fails to protect threatened Klamath River coho salmon.

A coalition of commercial fishermen and conservation groups, joined by the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes, filed the lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the federal Bureau of Reclamation in September 2002 because the agencies' 10 year plan failed to leave sufficient water in the river for salmon and relied on future, speculative actions from the states of California and Oregon to make up for the missing water.

The court sided with the fishing and conservation groups, finding the government's plan illegal because it failed to provide adequate water flows for coho salmon until eight years into the 10 year plan.

The court said, "Five full generations of coho will complete their three-year life cycles - hatch, rear, and spawn - during those eight years. Or, if there is insufficient water to sustain the coho during this period, they will not complete their life cycle, with the consequence that there will be no coho at the end of the eight years. If that happens, all the water in the world in 2010 and 2011 will not protect the coho, for there will be none to protect."

"This decision gives hope to the families that depend on Klamath River salmon," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), the west coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families.

"This case is about restoring balance to the basin so that fishermen, Native Americans, and irrigators can all receive a fair share of the water. We will continue to work on a new vision for the basin," said Spain.

Salmon advocates have been pointing to the plan's inadequacies since it was released in May 2002. Five months after the plan was adopted, low flows caused by irrigation deliveries killed over 64,000 adult salmon.

In addition, months earlier, during the spring of 2002, juvenile salmon died in the river from low water conditions. The loss of these juveniles is what led to the severe commercial salmon fishing restrictions this year on the California and Oregon coasts, the PCFFA said.

Because Klamath River coho are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must approve any irrigation plan devised by the Bureau of Reclamation that relies on taking water from the Klamath River.

In May 2002, the Fisheries Service held that the Bureau's plan would jeopardize the continued survival of the Klamath River coho, but failed to require adequate measures to protect the salmon.

The appeals court ordered the case back to the district court to get more water into the river, saying, "We emphasize that the interim injunctive relief should reflect the short life-cycle of the species. It is not enough to provide water for the coho to survive in five years, if in the meantime, the population has been weakened or destroyed by inadequate water flows."

"Bush administration officials swept science under the rug, and the court caught them," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. "With this decision, management of the Klamath River must be balanced so salmon and the communities that depend on them aren't left high and dry."

Inadequate river flows that result when the Bureau of Reclamation diverts water for irrigation in the high desert hurt salmon at all stages of their life cycle. Newly hatched salmon need safe habitat in and around bank vegetation to hide and feed. Lower river flows force these young fish into the mainstream of the river where they are easy prey.

Juvenile salmon need adequate river flows and cold clean water in the spring to safely make the journey to the Pacific Ocean. Adult salmon, returning upriver to spawn, are hurt or killed by high water temperatures and poor water quality due to low river flows caused by upstream irrigation diversions.

The Klamath was once the third most productive salmon river in the continental United States, behind the Columbia and Sacramento. The river has been changed as the Bureau of Reclamation has re-plumbed its headwaters to maximize irrigation in the arid upper basin desert.

The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of PCFFA, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, the Wilderness Society, WaterWatch of Oregon, Northcoast Environmental Center, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Klamath Forest Alliance, and Headwaters.

In the district court, these groups were joined by Congressman Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, and the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes. Briefs supporting the plaintiffs were filed by the cities of Arcata and Eureka, Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, and the Humboldt Bay, Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

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Federal Fisheries Agency Need Not Take Most Protective Course

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - After more than a year of legal actions involving three consolidated lawsuits, Judge Richard Leon of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) does not have to adopt the most restrictive conservation measures available.

In legal action brought by The Ocean Conservancy and Oceana, the judge ruled that the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) “only requires the NMFS to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable” and does not require the agency to adopt the most protective measure available.

The judge also decided that bycatch reduction is not a top priority of the act. “Although the NMFS might have done more to reduce bycatch, “more” is not the standard that NMFS must follow," Judge Leon wrote.

The Blue Water Fishermen’s Association (BWFA) say they and co-defendant the National Marine Fisheries Service were "vindicated" by the decision handed down on October 6.

The Memorandum Opinion confirms many legal points at issue for U.S. fisheries under the MSA, Endangered Species Act (ESA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The judge found “…NMFS’s decisions entirely reasonable, supported by the record, and in full compliance of the MSA, ESA, and NEPA.”

The challenged rule contains substantial sea turtle conservation actions for hook and line fisheries, including a shift to the exclusive use of circle hooks and specific baits by U.S. pelagic longline fishermen working in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Although the use of circle hooks can result in a 30 percent reduction in swordfish catches, American fishermen have readily accepted their use and are working to encourage foreign fleets to use them as well, says the Blue Water Fishermen’s Association.

BWFA represents U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline fishermen and related businesses that provide fresh Atlantic swordfish, tunas, sharks and mahi-mahi for American seafood consumers.

“We are very pleased with Judge Leon’s opinion. Too many resources are spent on these types of lawsuits,” said Nelson Beideman, BWFA’s executive director.

“American fishermen lead the world on a host of conservation issues," Beideman said. "We spearheaded the full recovery of North Atlantic swordfish and conducted research that demonstrates up to 92 percent reductions in bycatch. Most international fleets lag way behind and should catch-up.”

The Ocean Conservancy and Oceana made no comment on the ruling.

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Bill to Safeguard New Mexico's Ojito Wilderness Passes Congress

WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - The House of Representatives today passed the Ojito Wilderness Act, sending the bill designating as wilderness a 11,000 acre site in New Mexico to President George W. Bush for his signature.

New Mexico Representatives Heather Wilson, a Republican, and Tom Udall, a Democrat, said the bill, known as S. 156, creates a new wilderness area on federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Sandoval County south of San Ysidro.

The proposal was first put forth by then Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. in 1991 during the first Bush administration. The Ojito Wilderness Act recognizes that the area's dramatic landforms and rock structures, multicolored badlands, and rare plants are worthy of permanent protection.

"It has been a long and arduous process that has gotten us to this point," Udall said. "To say that the current atmosphere in Washington has not been eager to approve new wilderness designations would be an understatement of mammoth proportions. That is why today's passage is truly remarkable. We've worked in good faith to educate our colleagues about why Ojito should be eternally safeguarded. I am optimistic that the President will sign this bill."

The measure has broad local support, including the endorsement of the local Sandoval County Commission, the Bernalillo County Commission, the Albuquerque City Council, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, many of the pueblos, several environmental groups, and a coalition of more than 350 organizations and business groups.

"This is an important day for so many who have worked on this effort. For more than a decade, the Pueblo of Zia worked with the county, the BLM and the state land office to develop balanced legislation that is broadly supported," Wilson said.

"I'm very pleased that the 11,000-acre Ojito Wilderness will have the permanent protection it deserves, and I want to congratulate the Pueblo for achieving this long-sought goal to unite their ancestral lands."

Pueblo of Zia Governor Teofilo Pino said, "The pueblo is extremely pleased to see this important legislation passed. This culminates years of work to unite our reservation lands, while providing wilderness protection to a very special and unique area."

Pino recognized the leadership of New Mexico Senators Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, for winning passage of the bill in the Senate.

The Ojito area has been preserved as a Wilderness Study Area since 1991, pending congressional action to formally designate the area as wilderness. Enactment of the Ojito Wilderness Act would add these 11,000 acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects wild areas that have "outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation."

The area will remain open to hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and rock climbing, as well as grazing and scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical uses. It will be protected from development, including commercial enterprises, road building, and mining, as well as off-road vehicle use.

The Ojito Wilderness Act also would add protections to lands buffering the proposed Ojito Wilderness that are largely surrounded by the Pueblo of Zia. The Pueblo will be allowed to purchase these lands for public open space, so long as they remain open to the public for continued recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, paleontological, and conservation uses, and so long as their natural characteristics are preserved.

In doing so, the Pueblo will be able to unite the two separate parts of its reservation with aboriginal lands that have important religious, cultural, and historical value to the Pueblo.

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Plutonium Consolidation Not Welcome in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - More than 30 regional and national public interest groups are calling on elected officials in Idaho and Wyoming to stop the consolidation of radioactive plutonium at the Idaho National Laboratory.

In a letter addressed to the Idaho and Wyoming governors and Congressional members, the groups requested that officials urge the Department of Energy (DOE) to draft a new environmental impact statement (EIS), citing the DOE’s lack of legal obligation to respond to public comments beyond the draft.

The state of Idaho and public interest groups alike criticized the draft EIS released in July for its lack of substantive information on worker safety, environmental protection, project need, and waste production and disposal.

Last week, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, announced his opposition to plutonium consolidation at Idaho National Laboratory.

“The plutonium impact statement was completely inadequate, and if we proceed with what DOE is proposing, there will be accidents and there will be contamination,” said Jeremy Maxand, executive director of the Snake River Alliance.

“The DOE has no legal obligation to respond to public comments beyond the draft EIS, so if major problems still exist, and we anticipate they will, the public has no recourse beyond litigation.”

The groups are particularly concerned with the DOE’s plutonium management track record and the likelihood of workers being exposed to deadly isotopes. As recently as 2003, workers at Los Alamos were contaminated with Pu-238.

An investigative report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) concluded that one of the reasons for such accidents is that DOE places a higher value on plutonium than on workers. The DNFSB is an independent board chartered by Congress to oversee safety issues at DOE nuclear weapons sites.

“DOE’s projected probabilities of worker exposure in this EIS are ridiculously low, which the direct experience at Los Alamos utterly contradicts,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a watchdog organization. The most recent Pu-238 operations and resulting accidents have taken place at the Los Alamos National Laboratory."

Coghlan said, “Idahoans should reject the DOE proposal because there is no clear need for it to begin with and DOE has no pathway certain for waste disposal. Haven’t Idahoans heard that before?”

Despite a project in Los Alamos to recover up to eight kilograms per year of existing Pu-238, more than the DOE says it needs, the agency still plans to consolidate new Pu-238 production activities at the Idaho National Laboratory.

s These future operations will involve virgin production of Pu-238 in the 40 year old Advanced Test Reactor and construction of a $230 million facility to extract the plutonium through reprocessing, purify it, place the plutonium in specially-welded capsules, and install the capsules in space batteries.

Pu-238 is particularly dangerous to humans if inhaled, and the form the DOE plans to use is the most dangerous because of its small particle size, the opponents warn.

“Plutonium is a very dangerous and toxic material,” said Judith Murray, executive director of the Idaho Nurses Association. “The DOE has a pretty bad track record, so when a project like this comes knocking on your door, you better take notice and start asking questions.”

The Final EIS for plutonium consolidation is scheduled for release in the spring of 2006.

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Navy Flips the Switch on Hawaii's Largest Federal Solar Array

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - The largest array of solar cells on federal property in Hawaii was formally dedicated on Thursday. Located atop the U.S. Navy's Ford Island Building 54 at Pearl Harbor, the array covers 31,000 square feet of roof space.

The 309 kilowatt PowerLight PowerGuard solar electric rooftop system will generate clean and reliable electricity for the Navy. It incorporates 1,545 solar panels made by Sharp Corporation. During the daytime, this solar system generates enough energy to power the equivalent of 300 homes.

“The deployment of solar power at NAVFAC Hawaii demonstrates the Navy's commitment to using energy management practices that reduce operational costs and protect the environment,” said Captain Richard Roth, commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Hawaii. “Using clean generation is very consistent with the Navy's ongoing efforts to leverage superior operational expertise and technologies.”

The array's solar power will be added to the Navy's electrical grid at Pearl Harbor and provide additional power during the busiest part of the work day.

Not only will it reduce the demand on Hawaiian Electric Company's power grid, it will improve air quality by avoiding thousands of tons of polluting nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition, the solar power array is expected to save the Navy $40,000 per year, at current rates.

“Installing photovoltaics at governmental facilities is a sound, sensible way for us to use distributed energy resources to meet our renewable energy goals as well as reduce operating costs,” said Captain Roth. “In addition, deploying these technologies assures our energy independence and national security.”

Pearl Harbor's solar power system began as a Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) initiative and joint venture with the Navy. Originally, HECO offered to finance and build a photovoltaic array on Navy land, which they would lease.

Over time, the project was adjusted and what began as a 100 kW photovoltaic system in a large-scale energy park to be located in Pearl Harbor's West Loch area, evolved into a 309 kW system placed on the roof of Building 54.

The historic, pre-World War II aircraft hanger on Ford Island, Building 54, received endorsements from Navy Region Hawaii's Historic Preservation architect and the State Historic Preservation Office. It was chosen for its suitable roof structure and lay out for the array.

“Solar power proved to be a wonderful energy solution,” said Kevin Saito, energy manager, NAVFAC Hawaii. “By leveraging Hawaii's abundant sunshine, this photovoltaic system combines the environmental benefits of solar with the ability to provide onsite power. This project provides a more, cost-stable source of electricity, mitigating the sharp increase in fuel prices with which we are so familiar.”

The 309kW photovoltaic system was designed and installed by PowerLight Corporation of Northern California. Funding for the project was obtained by the state of Hawaii's Congressional Delegation.

“We commend the U.S. Navy for taking such a strong leadership role in implementing clean, renewable solar power,” said PowerLight President Dan Shugar. “Wider deployment of onsite solar generation is helping to secure our nation's energy independence and national security."

PowerLight also designed and installed the Navy's largest photovoltaic system, the 750 kW solar array at Naval Base Coronado, San Diego, California.

"NAVFAC Hawaii's vision to implement innovative technologies is terrific; our collaboration with the Navy has been instrumental in making this project, as well as one at Naval Base Coronado, a reality," Shugar said. "PowerLight is committed to helping make the Navy more energy and cost-efficient, with minimal impact to the environment.”

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