Report Questions Corps' Cleanup GuidelinesWASHINGTON, DC, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not have a sound basis for determining that about 38 percent, or 1,468, of 3,840 former defense sites do not need further study or cleanup action, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has determined.
A report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, says the Corps' conclusions are questionable because there is no evidence that the Corps reviewed or obtained information that would allow it to identify all the potential hazards at these Department of Defense (DOD) properties, or that it took sufficient steps to assess the presence of potential hazards.
For example, the GAO estimates that for about 74 percent of all the properties that the Corps lists as "no DOD action needed" (NDAI), the files do not indicate that the Corps reviewed or obtained information such as site maps or photos that would show facilities, such as ammunition storage facilities, that could indicate the presence of hazards including unexploded ordnance.
"We also estimate that the files for about 60 percent of all NDAI properties do not indicate that the Corps contacted all the current owners to obtain information about potential hazards," the GAO report states.
The Corps appeared to have overlooked or dismissed information already in its possession that showed where hazards might be present, the GAO added. For example, at an almost 1,900 acre site once used as an airfield by both the Army and the Navy, the Corps' file included a map showing bomb and fuse storage units on the site that would suggest the potential presence of hazards related to ordnance.
"However, despite the map, we found no evidence that the Corps searched for such hazards," the GAO states.
In other cases, the files contained no evidence that the Corps took "sufficient steps" to assess the presence of potential hazards. For example, although Corps guidance calls for a site visit to look for signs of potential hazards, the GAO estimates that the files show no evidence of the required site visits for about 18 percent of all NDAI properties.
The GAO says the problems with the Corps' assessments occurred in part because Corps guidance does not specify what documents or level of detail the Corps should obtain when looking for information on the prior uses of and the facilities located at former defense sites, or how to assess the presence of potential hazards.
The Defense Department reviewed a draft of the GAO report, and disagreed with its conclusions that the Corps did not consistently obtain the information needed to identify potential hazards at former DOD sites, or take sufficient steps to assess the presence of potential hazards. However, the GAO notes that the DOD did not provide any evidence to support its position.
The GAO report recommends that the Corps develop more specific guidelines for identifying and assessing potential hazards at former DOD sites, and use the revised guidelines and procedures to review all its NDAI files and determine which properties should be reassessed.
The GAO report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02658.pdf
Study: Millions of Wild Acres Could Be LostWASHINGTON, DC, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - About 319 million acres of wild public lands are at risk of destruction, warns a new report by the Campaign for America's Wilderness.
The group, formed earlier this year, reports that seven out of eight acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service could be mined, logged or otherwise developed because they lack permanent protection as wilderness. The Campaign for America's Wilderness represents a nationwide effort to protect wild lands under the National Wilderness Preservation System.
"This report for the first time inventories the remaining wild land under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, and former head of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Salt Lake City.
"The American people - who as taxpayers own this land - need to be aware of the fact that threats to its existence are mounting. Less than five percent of the nation's landmass is now protected as wilderness," continued Matz. "These critical wild lands keep our air and water clean, protect rare and endangered species, and provide unparalleled recreational opportunities. The time to act is now."
The report, titled "America's Wilderness Heritage in Crisis: Our Vanishing Wild Landscapes," cites the loss of wilderness qualities in key areas such as California's High Sierra, Idaho's Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands, Utah's San Rafael Swell, Nevada's McCullough Mountains, and Alaska's Arctic. Increased oil drilling and mining, encroaching suburban growth, rampant dirt bike and off road vehicle use, and fragmentation caused by roadbuilding all detract from the wild nature of these lands, the group charges.
"We have more than seven million miles of roads in America," said Matz. "There is no longer anywhere one can go - not the deepest canyon or darkest forest where he or she is not within 20 miles of a road."
Speaking at a National Press Club newsmaker event on Monday, Matz noted that Congress has used the 1964 Wilderness Act to designate "some wonderful places" as wilderness.
"But the job is not done," Matz added, "and the American people know the job is not done." Public opinion polls taken over the past three years show that Americans from all regions and across the political spectrum favor increased wilderness protection, he said.
"This is a time of serious risk," Matz charged. "Failure to protect our remaining wilderness is like sanctioning its devastation. But we still have time to act. All the land that future generations of Americans will know and cherish is that which we can win protection for today. We owe it to our children to leave them a wilderness legacy."
The Campaign is working to help state coalitions and citizen groups across the country to raise awareness of wilderness issues and to seek adoption of proposals and initiatives that will provide permanent protection for wilderness.
The report is available online at: http://www.leaveitwild.org/reports/crisis_report_main.html
Lawsuit Challenges California Airport ExpansionSAN FRANCISCO, California, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups has refiled a lawsuit to force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to consider the environmental impacts of an airport expansion project in Mammoth Lakes, California in the eastern Sierra Nevada.
The groups, represented by Earthjustice, want the court to order an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project.
Environmentalists had put the suit on hold in August 2001 with the understanding that the FAA would continue to review the project, and at a later date, issue a final decision on whether further environmental study was needed. But the FAA approved the project in July 2002 without requiring any further study.
The original Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact by FAA failed to address the impacts of converting the small airport into a facility able to bring in thousands of tourists every year, the lawsuit charges.
The proposed expansion would convert a small private airplane facility into a major regional airport, landing B-737s and B-757s, carrying more than 100 passengers each. Projected air traffic would increase the need for facilities such as hotels, condominiums, cabins, restaurants, shopping centers, rental car agencies, road upgrades, parking lots and traffic signals, to support the influx of visitors.
"With this project, Mammoth will be subjected to urban sprawl in a pristine scenic area close to wilderness and threatened wildlife," said local resident and Sierra Club member Owen Maloy. "We already have many visitors who drive in from Los Angeles and the rest of California. This project proposes to double the number of visitor days with tourists arriving by plane. People still don't have enough information about how this will change our area. There is risk of destroying the very scenic values that attract visitors."
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area now supports about one million skier days per year. The owners seek to remake Mammoth in the image of Aspen and Sun Valley by attracting more out of state skiers to justify more real estate development.
The project proposes to double the number of skier days each winter, and increase summer visitation as well. Mammoth Mountain will help fund the proposed expansion by loaning Mammoth Lakes the local funding share required under FAA guidelines for airport expansions. Mammoth expects to receive a federal grant to cover the difference.
"It's a shame we were forced back into court over this issue," said Susan Britton, an attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the plaintiffs. "The community is simply asking for a full EIS that would make explicit the potential costs in terms of additional sprawl, reduced air quality, traffic, noise, and negative impacts to the aesthetic quality of the area, so people can make informed choices."
Growth induced by the airport expansion could affect several protected species in the area, including the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, sage grouse, Owens tui chub, and bald eagle. Increased tourism in the area would also increase air pollution and noise pollution.
"The FAA's logic is absurd," said CalTrout's conservation director Jim Edmondson. "To approve this project, with its increase in tourists, will require more development and, thus, more water withdrawals, more storage and handling of toxic jet fuels, more traffic, more noise, and other incompatible elements putting the area's fisheries and other elements of this fragile ecosystem in harm's way."
The Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, California Trout and the Natural Resources Defense Council are partners in the lawsuit. A copy of the complaint is available at: http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/MammothComplaint.pdf
State Policies Affect Energy Efficient InstallationsWASHINGTON, DC, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - A new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) details state efforts to promote the installation of combined heat and power systems.
With many energy markets becoming deregulated, state governments are looking for ways to encourage the diversification of power production resources such as combined heat and power (CHP), the report notes. CHP systems, also known as cogeneration, generate electricity and thermal energy in a single, integrated system.
CHP systems are more energy efficient than separate generation of electricity and thermal energy because heat that is wasted by conventional power generation is recovered as useful energy for heating buildings or other heating needs. ACEEE says CHP systems can be employed in many commercial and industrial facilities.
ACEEE's report reviews current state activities regarding CHP, including standards for connecting cogeneration systems to power grids, emissions regulations and financial incentives for energy efficient power generation.
In total, five states offer state level financial incentives, most have no state level standardized interconnection standards, and only seven have or are planning any specialized emissions regulations regarding CHP. States making progress on encouraging the installation of CHP systems include New York, Texas and California.
"Although only a few states have taken steps to encourage CHP, they offer a wide range of programs that can be good models for many states," said Elizabeth Brown, one of the report's authors and ACEEE's industry research assistant.
States have the ability to tailor incentive programs to their specific needs, giving their programs a good chance of success, Brown noted. While the programs will not transfer directly to other states, they are good models for other states to work from, she added.
The report, "State Opportunities for Action: Review of Combined Heat and Power State Activities," is available at: http://www.aceee.org/chp/chp.pdf
Refilling California Aquifer Could Mean Costly WaterFOUNTAIN VALLEY, California, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - The groundwater basin beneath Orange County, California has been overdrawn by more than 400,000 acre feet after a series of dry years and the region's increased demands for water.
One acre foot of water equals 326,000 gallons - enough to serve two Orange County families for one year.
In 1933, the California State Legislature created the Orange County Water District (OCWD) to maintain and manage the groundwater basin under northern and central Orange County. The OCWD Board is now planning to address the depletion its groundwater reserves by refilling the basin and reducing groundwater use.
"In recent times, we did whatever we could to provide 75 percent of the north-central cities' water supplies from the groundwater basin. Annual pumping has increased today to the point that we must back off providing 75 percent of the supply until we can improve our ability to acquire new water and build facilities to put water into the ground," said Board president Jerry King.
This year, the groundwater basin has been overdrawn by more than 400,000 acre feet, about 200,000 acre feet more than targeted, but about 300,000 acre feet less than the agency's worst year on record. A groundwater overdraft refers to the amount of water being removed from a basin which exceeds the amount of water being restored by rainfall and stream flow percolating through the soil into the underground aquifer.
The OCWD Board is reviewing possible solutions to the current overdraft that include:
Many of these solutions will be expensive for consumers. For example, groundwater costs about $127 per acre foot, plus about $50 for energy costs to extract the water from the ground. In comparison, imported water from northern California and the Colorado River costs about $450 per acre foot.
As OCWD addresses its groundwater overdraft, cities who use groundwater will need to buy more imported water in the future at the higher cost. Groundwater rates will also increase due to the need to develop new and improved ways to get water into the aquifers.
Some of the other strategies to improve future basin water levels include improving OCWD's ability to recharge Santa Ana River and imported water in the future, buying additional land for percolation basins, obtaining discounted imported water to decrease the use of the basins, storing regional drought water supplies in the basin and developing an experimental vehicle to clean percolation lakes.
To address the current drought in southern California, the OCWD is asking residential users to go to the OCWD website for easy water conservation measures, and consider purchasing front loading washers, ultra low-flush toilets, and faucet and shower aerators.
Groups Sue Over Pheasant Stocking at Cape CodBOSTON, Massachusetts, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - Wildlife advocates have filed suit to stop the stocking and shooting of tame pheasants on Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.
The groups are challenging the National Park Service's (NPS) decision to release hundreds of non-native pheasants each year within Cape Cod National Seashore for recreational sport shooting, even though NPS policies prohibit the intentional release of non-native and exotic wildlife.
The Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), and several Cape Cod residents filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Boston on Friday.
"The pheasant stocking program is ecologically reckless, patently inhumane, and inconsistent with the NPS's own policies," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund for Animals. "The NPS is exterminating black rats on Anacapa Island and evicting wild burros from the Mojave because they are not native, but is purposely introducing exotic species for sport hunters to use as targets."
Each fall, the NPS and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife release hundreds of captive bred pheasants on the Seashore during a six week hunting season. The pheasants, native to Asia, are raised on intensive farms, where farmers put blinders on the birds and cut off parts of their beaks.
The tame birds are unprepared for survival in the wild, and many are shot by hunters within hours of being released. The lawsuit notes that those who survive are often killed by predators or vehicle collisions, while many succumb to starvation.
Cape Cod National Seashore is home a variety of native plant and animal species, including a number of species listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. or the state of Massachusetts, all of which can be harmed by hunters and their dogs. Many hunting dogs are abandoned at the Seashore where they consume native birds and other wildlife until local animal protection officials can pick them up, the groups note.
The lawsuit charges that NPS's 1996 study of the pheasant stocking program failed to include a no stocking alternative, and failed to consider the impact of the program on the unique ecological characteristics and resources of the Seashore, public safety, and threatened and endangered species.
"National parks are not places where special interests should be allowed to engage in activities that can threaten the ecological communities and policies the parks are sworn to protect," said Dr. John Grandy, senior vice president of the wildlife division of HSUS. "The NPS's commitment to protecting living plant and animal communities should not be subordinated to - and made meaningless by - the idea of recreational pleasure."
Kara Holmquist, director of legislative affairs for MSPCA, said her group joined the lawsuit "because all other means of ending the stocking program have been exhausted."
"The MSPCA has testified before the National Seashore Advisory Commission and our members have expressed their opposition to, and concern about, introducing a non-native species on the Seashore," Holmquist said. "Unfortunately, this practice continues and our many members and supporters on Cape Cod and throughout the state are adversely affected."
A copy of the complaint is available at: http://www.fund.org/uploads/pheasant.pdf
Sisters Sought for Breast Cancer StudyTAMPA, Florida, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - Medical researchers hope studying the sisters of women with breast cancer will help them to tease out the genetic and environmental causes of the disease.
At the Tampa Bay, Florida Race for the Cure, the last weekend, researchers began recruiting women for a unique, 10 year study into breast cancer causes. The team hopes to enroll 50,000 women volunteers across the nation, ages 35 to 74, whose sisters have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dr. Dale Sandler, acting chief of the from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the federal National Institutes of Health (NIEHS) epidemiology branch, and Dr. Clarice Weinberg, chief of the NIEHS biostatistics branch, are the principal investigators in the study.
"Our recruiting plan includes working with breast cancer advocacy and support groups to spread the word about the Sister Study and our need for 50,000 women participants," said Sandler. "Breast cancer advocates, in fact, will be the backbone of the study."
Sisters of women with breast cancer are known to be at greater risk of breast cancer - up to twice the risk of other women. By following these sisters for 10 years, the researchers hope to find clues about why their risk is so high - whether it is from shared genes, a common diet, early menstruation, exposure to a household or environmental chemical, or some combination of these factors.
"First degree relatives, especially sisters, have up to two times the risk of developing breast cancer as the average woman," Sandler noted. Sisters are also likely to be within the same age range and to have been exposed to many of the same environmental factors during early childhood and even later in life, she noted.
Sisters also share many of the same genes, including those that determine the way their bodies handle carcinogens or repairs DNA. And they also share a common concern over the disease that makes them more likely to want to participate in the study and stay in the study for the 10 or more years that it may take to get results, Sandler said.
Sister Study researchers will collect biological and environmental samples - blood, urine, toenail clippings and household dust - from participants at the outset of the study. They will also use questionnaires to gather data about health histories, environmental exposures and lifestyles.
The first phase of recruiting focused on the Tampa area where recruiters signed up potential volunteers at the Survivors Tent during the September 21 Race for the Cure. Recruitment will continue following the race, taking advantage of volunteers who have agreed to help spread the word about the study, messages on the Internet, and other media.
A similar effort will kick off recruitment in Phoenix, Arizona, at its October 13 Race for the Cure, in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Providence, Rhode Island. The four cities were selected for their size and geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
The initial recruiting goal for the four cities together is 2,000 participants over the next six to nine months. The volunteers themselves may gain no medical benefit from the research but, as one of the women involved has said, "Our daughters may."
To learn more about the Sister Study, visit: http://www.sisterstudy.org
Kids Can Help Tigers at TigerAid Web SiteSAN FRANCISCO, California, September 24, 2002 (ENS) - A new online action tool provides youth clubs, community youth groups and schools the opportunity to help protect tigers and their natural habitats.
The Kids 4 Tigers PledgePage is a free service for youth from around the world who share a common interest in saving wild tigers and their remaining habitats. The site is sponsored by TigerAid, a U.S. based, international tiger advocacy and conservation nonprofit group.
The section was added to TigerAid's main website to make it easier for youth groups to build their own tiger awareness and fundraising campaigns.
"We received many inquiries from teachers and classrooms asking us what more they could do to get actively involved in this important conservation effort," said TigerAid executive director Richard Birchard. "We believe they will love being a part of Kids 4 Tigers and being a part of a positive organization that gets results. All funds raised by Kids 4 Tigers PledgePage and submitted to TigerAid go directly towards TigerAid conservation projects in the field."
Visitors to the site will find information about the plight of the tiger with brief explanations regarding tiger facts as well as tiger images. The site allows visitors to create their own PledgePage, then manage their outreach activities with email and contact management tools, and to post photos, diary entries and other information about their own specific fundraising efforts.
"We partnered with PledgePage to give children a reliable opportunity to create and participate in various awareness and fundraising ways to help save tigers and protect the environment. The Kids 4 Tigers PledgePage increases their ability to not only express themselves, but to become activists in helping to achieve conservation results," said Birchard.
Kids 4 Tigers participants may use their Kids 4 Tigers PledgePage page to initiate a weekend car wash; rally support through an effort coordinated by Parent Teachers Association's; organize a school event working through student councils; or start an annual Tiger Walk-a-Thon dedicated to a specific subspecies of tiger.
For more information visit: http://www.tigeraid.org/kids4tigers.asp