AmeriScan: October 17, 2006

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Schwarzenegger Looks to Extend Climate Trading Plan

NEW YORK, New York, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday agreed to explore ways to link his state's efforts to curb greenhouse gases with an initiative launched by seven Northeastern states. The agreement will examine how California can partner its greenhouse gas emissions trading program, set for implementation in 2012, with a similar plan being developed by a coalition of seven northeastern states.

"I recently signed legislation giving California the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal in the country," said Schwarzenegger, a Republican. "But no one state can do it alone. It truly is a global problem where states, regions and nations must work together to find a solution,

Last month California announced a plan to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020, establishing the first U.S. cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Northeast partnership, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 10 percent by 2019 through a trading program. The RGGI includes New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Maryland has said will also join the initiative.

The RGGI only applies to power plants - the California plan extends to all industries.

Schwarzenegger made the announcement after touring a greenhouse gas emissions credit trading desk at Credit Suisse with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"This morning I went to a trading floor where they were helping companies buy and sell emissions credits because I wanted to learn about this marketplace and how it will work in California," Schwarzenegger said. "But it also struck me that these jobs were all new jobs being created in the clean-tech industry. I have said many times that you do not have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment."

The main market for trading greenhouse gas emission credits globally is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. Credit Suisse is one of the only major financial institutions with its greenhouse gas emissions credit trading desk based in the United States and provides companies and investors with access to the rapidly growing emissions trading markets.

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Judge Rejects San Diego Habitat Plan

SAN DIEGO, California, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - A massive San Diego regional habitat conservation plan does not do enough to protect endangered and threatened species that depending on wetlands for survival, a federal judge ruled Friday. The ruling is a victory for conservation groups, who filed suit challenging the plan and said it was undermining recovery efforts for seven imperiled vernal pool wetland species, including two fairy shrimp and five plants.

"The judge's ruling is an affirmation of concerns that have been raised for years by scientists and conservationists alike," said David Hogan, Director of the Urban Wildlands Program at the Center for Biological Diversity. "These plans should help recover listed species, not serve as a blank check for developers."

The 61-page opinion ruling also rejects a related lawsuit by developers and sends the plan back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agency to try again.

The plan, approved in 1997 by the Clinton administration, locked in its wetlands management "plan" for 50 years, giving developers a pledge that they would not be forced to do more to protect species.

But U.S. District Court Judge Rudi Brewster found this was unacceptable. The agency failed to consider that the plan undermines the recovery of the affected species, according to the ruling, even after the agency released a recovery plan with much stronger conservation recommendations, and after the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion narrowing the federal government's ability to protect vernal pools.

"The species are left in a 'heads I lose, tails you win' position that substitutes inadequate conservation measures in the place of the strict conservation and recovery standards of the [Endangered Species Act]," Brewster wrote.

The effects of anticipated major development on the vernal pool species were never analyzed and the plan failed to provide assured funding for promised conservation activities, Brewster determined. The judge also noted that the plan's vague pledges of future funding stand in stark contrast to precise and absolute assurances to developers.

"The ruling recognized that the [plan] provided certainty for developers without also insuring that the rarest species will have a secure future," said Neil Levine, an attorney with Earthjustice who argued the case. "The decision means that the San Diego plan and others like it should be improved to uphold their conservation commitments."

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Conservationists Defend Gold Mining Rules

OAKLAND, California, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - Conservation groups filed a submission Monday opposing a Canadian gold mining company's bid for compensation for mining restrictions imposed on mine in California. Glamis Gold is seeking $50 million from the United States through an appeal to a trade panel created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"This is about a foreign-owned company using a NAFTA trade panel to bully the state of California and the United States into letting them destroy public lands," said Margrete Strand Rangnes, with Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program. "This case should be a wake-up call to the Bush administration as it negotiates new trade agreements."

The submission was filed by Sierra Club and Earthworks. The trade panel is considering the case involving a series of open pit gold mines in the California desert roughly 45 miles northeast of El Centro, California. The land is sacred to the Quechan Indians, a Colorado River Indian tribe living near the California-Arizona border. The Clinton administration rejected Glamis's mining plan, citing concerns it would destroy the sacred tribal lands.

California later passed a law requiring open pit mines to be refilled after mining was completed, a process the company argues is too expensive to make the mine profitable. The Bush administration reversed the Clinton administration's decision, but still hasn't issued the necessary permits.

Furthermore, the California reclamation law is still on the books. However, the company claims the California law and the Clinton administration's denial violate NAFTA, which provides special protection for the profits of foreign companies.

'The Glamis project calls for mining and leaching 300 million tons of waste rock and 150 million tons of ore to produce a small amount of gold," said Larry Klaasen of the San Diego Sierra Club chapter. "This would be devastating to the surrounding desert ecosystem."

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Florida Officials Sued Over Myakka River Management

SARASOTA COUNTY, Florida, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - The Southwest Florida Water Management District's misconduct caused widespread destruction of hardwood forests along the Myakka River, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in circuit court by Earthjustice. The environmental law firm filed the suit on behalf of the Crowley Museum and Nature Center.

The suit alleges the district has managed projects knowing that they were killing thousands of acres of trees with high water levels caused by fertilizer-laden irrigation runoff from irrigated vegetable farms in the upper Myakka River.

"We were so hopeful that the Water Management District was going to stop our trees from being killed," said Bill Cowdright, executive director of the Crowley Museum and Nature Center. "But it is getting worse and we have huge oak trees lying dead on the ground."

The Water Management District bought the three thousand acre Flatford Swamp in the upper Myakka River in 1991 using state conservation fund monies. A decade later the swamp was littered with dead trees, largely caused by dirty irrigation water pouring off of vegetable farms and from district-funded water capture and impoundments. The suit alleges water officials never checked to see what its projects were doing, and took no action when it discovered that the projects were not built according to approved plans.

"The District is not taking responsibility for its actions; it's a big part of the problem and has to be a big part of the solution too," said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer.

Earthjustice has been representing the Nature Center in litigation against the tomato farms in the area, and in 2004 successfully negotiated an agreement with one of the defendants to drastically reduce the amount of ground water flowing into Flatford Swamp.

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EPA Report Touts Acid Rain Program

WASHINGTON, DC, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its Acid Rain Program 2005 Progress Report Tuesday and touted the continued success of the 11-year old environmental program.

Implemented in 1995 by the Clinton administration, the program set up an emissions trade scheme to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide, the two pollutants that combined to form acid rain.

The EPA said that due to rigorous emissions monitoring and allowance tracking, overall compliance with the Acid Rain Program has been consistently high - nearly 100 percent. There were no units out of compliance in 2005, the report said.

In 2005, SO2 emissions from electric power generation were more than 5.5 million tons below 1990 levels. NOx emissions were down by about 3 million tons below 1990 levels. The program's emission cuts have reduced acid deposition and improved water quality in U.S. lakes and streams, EPA said, and also have resulted in reduced formation of fine particles, improved air quality, and human health related benefits.

A 2005 analysis in the "Journal of Environmental Management" estimated the value of the program's human health and environmental benefits in the year 2010 to be $122 billion annually. Most of these benefits result from the prevention of air quality-related health impacts, such as premature deaths and workdays missed due to illness, but they also include improved visibility in parks and other recreational and ecosystem improvements.

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Habitat Designated for Beach Mice

PANAMA CITY, Florida, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 6,200 acres along portions of coastal dunes in southern Alabama and the panhandle of Florida as critical habitat for the three endangered beach mouse species.

The lands include five units totaling 1,300 acres for the Perdido Key beach mouse in Escambia County, Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama; five units totaling 2,404 acres for the Choctawhatchee beach mouse in Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay counties, Florida; and three units totaling 2,490 acres for the St. Andrew beach mouse in Bay and Gulf counties, Florida.

"This critical habitat designation will provide benefits to the beach mice by informing the public of areas that are important to the species recovery and identifying where conservation actions would be most effective," said Sam Hamilton, southeast regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency was forced to revise critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse and the Choctawhatchee beach mouse under a court order. A separate court order called on the agency to set aside habitat for the St. Andrew beach mouse.

The agency estimates impacts associated with conservation activities for the three beach mouse species are estimated to range from 93.4 to $174.9 million over the next 20 years. Some 95 percent of the estimated costs are from effects on the commercial development industry.

The main threats to beach mice are humans and coastal development. Coastal development -- construction of homes and condominiums -- has caused the destruction of dune habitats. In addition, domestic cats can affect beach mice populations.

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Coalition Protects South Dakota Bird Habitat

HAND COUNTY, South Dakota, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - A coalition of public and private interests have funded a $3 million effort to protect more than 10,300 acres of South Dakota native prairie grasslands and wetlands.

The native prairie and wetlands of Hand County have long been recognized as a prime breeding area for a diversity of bird species but these populations are increasingly threatened by conversion of the grassland to cropland. The conservation group Ducks Unlimited led an effort to research the magnitude of prairie conversion in the region and to develop models that would help identify tracts that are at greatest risk of being converted.

The investment in this research then helped the conservation group obtain grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to begin the effort to purchase grassland easements on native prairie grassland and wetland complexes. These tracts supply critical breeding habitat for a diversity of grassland birds including waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and songbirds.

The grasslands are also critical to ensuring the viability of the local ranching industry, which is a cornerstone of the rural communities across South Dakota.

"This partnership illustrates the scale of conservation work that can be done when foundations, federal agencies, non-profits and conservation-minded landowners work together," said Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains region.

A portion of the funding from NFWF comes directly from a Budweiser sales promotion - more than 180 participating Anheuser-Busch wholesalers donated a percentage of sales of the popular beer to fund conservation efforts. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed funds from its duck stamp program.

"Helping to catalyze the protection of such a large block of grassland habitat is exactly the type of result NFWF seeks to achieve through its grants," said Jeff Trahndahl, executive director for NFWF. "This project illustrates all of the key elements NFWF epitomizes, including strong partnerships, leveraged returns on invested grant money and long-term approaches to conservation challenges that achieve results."

"The easement is a way to be rewarded for good stewardship," added Brad Magness, cattle producer from Huron, South Dakota and one of the landowners involved in this critical block of habitat. "The easement helps us to pass the ranch on to the next generation and even expand it while still maintaining the grasslands, our ranching operation and the wildlife that have always depended on the prairie."