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AmeriScan: September 26, 2002

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World Bank/IMF Protesters Descend on DC

WASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - Activists took to the streets of Washington, DC today to protest the World Bank's environmental and energy policies.

This weekend marks the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), an event that has been marked in recent years by thousands of protesters concerned about a variety of issues, ranging from the environment to human rights to the amorphous idea of globalization, which refers to the effects of international commerce on politics, local economies and the natural world.

Today, despite steady rains, at least 100 activists gathered across the street from the headquarters of the World Bank and IMF to draw attention to World Bank funding of energy and mining projects that are harmful to the environment and human health. The groups held signs reading "Biodiversity" and "Clean Energy Now."

A press release from the major groups involved in the demonstration, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Student Coalition, and the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, says the World Bank funds "dirty development projects under the guise of 'sustainable development'." Instead, critics say, the Bank should be subsidizing renewable energy projects like wind farms and solar power programs.

"Each year the World Bank pours hundreds of millions of dollars into fossil fuel and mining projects, often in the form of direct handouts to giant corporations like Enron and ExxonMobil," the groups charge. "The Bank's investments destroy pristine ecosystems, poison and displace local communities and fuel global warming. They are bankrolling the interests of giant corporations at the expense of local communities and the planet."

Many of the symbolic props the protesters intended to use to make their points, including a Trojan Horse and a Corporate Giant, did not survive well in the rainy weather. The activists were met by a strong police presence, including officers on foot, on horseback and on bicycles, but the peaceful protesters did not engage in confrontations with the police.

This morning's rally was one of many events timed to coincide with the World Bank/IMF meetings. On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth sponsored a noon rally outside the World Bank headquarters to express concern over the World Bank's policy of promoting the privatization of water systems in developing countries.

Tonight, a Jubilee Interfaith Prayer Service will call on the United States and international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to forgive loans to developing countries. Crippling international debt forces many developing countries to undergo environmentally and socially damaging projects, argue the members of the Jubilee USA network. More information is available at: http://www.jubileeusa.org/jubilee.cgi

On Friday, a variety of groups are planning marches, bike rides and other actions which some have warned will be aimed at shutting down the nation's capitol. Police will close streets around the IMF and World Bank headquarters tonight in preparation for these expected protests, and most garbage cans, benches and other items that could be used to make barricades have already been removed.

More information on the actions, which will protest capitalism and war, is available at: http://www.abolishthebank.org/en/index.html

Saturday will feature a Mobilization for Global Justice rally and march at noon, expected to draw thousands of activists. More information is available at: http://www.globalizethis.org

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Corporate Contributors Linked to Policy Paybacks

WASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - A new report details alleged connections between campaign contributions to the Bush administration and the Republican party, and Bush administration policies that benefit the contributors.

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, and the environmental organization Public Campaign say their report establishes in detail for the first time the correlation between corporate contributions and policy paybacks.

"These contributions and policy paybacks tell the story of how corporate interests brought the Bush administration to power so that it could weaken the law to benefit the companies' bottom line," the groups said.

The report, entitled "PAYBACKS," makes an accounting of industrial contributors to President George W. Bush's presidential campaign and the industry supportive policies that the Bush administration has backed. The report also names some of the top environmental officials within the administration who built their careers as lawyers and lobbyists for the industries they are now in charge of regulating.

"The Bush administration's anti-environmental agenda doesn't just appear to be made-to-order for polluting industry interests. It is," conclude Earthjustice and Public Campaign in "PAYBACKS."

"Industries now reaping the benefits of an administration intent on eliminating important environmental and public health safeguards are the same ones that helped underwrite the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC with more than $44 million in contributions," the report states.

The report focuses on the investments made by timber, mining, oil and gas, coal burning utilities, chemical and other manufacturing interests. "PAYBACKS" argues that these investments resulted in handsome returns for polluting and resource extractive industries in the form of anti-environmental policy decisions, often facilitated by Bush administration political appointees who are former industry lawyers and lobbyists.

"Over thirty years of progress in addressing environmental problems - spurred by public servants and private individuals of all political persuasions - is being squandered by this administration," said Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice. "The Bush administration is giving away our nation's clean water and air, national forests, and public lands to its corporate contributors."

The groups are planning to launch a new website that will present some of the information from the report.

"The GeorgeWBuy website is an accurate depiction of the sad reality: the Bush administration has put the public's health and precious natural resources on the auction block," said Parker.

The full PAYBACKS report is available at: http://www.earthjustice.org and: http://www.publicampaign.org

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Sierra Club: Bush Policies Leave Communities at Risk

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - Bush administration policies are leaving communities at risk from toxic pollution, a report from the Sierra Club charges.

The report profiles Americans who have been affected by contaminated soil, water and air from polluting industries - the same industries that the Bush administration is now seeking to protect from restrictive environmental laws.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director. "America's clean air, clean water, and toxic cleanup protections have led to three decades of environmental progress. Now the Bush Administration is making policy changes that are leaving the health and safety of our families and communities at risk."

For example, the administration has proposed to weaken the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program by allowing its funding to vanish. Over the past two decades, the federal Superfund program has cleaned up more than 800 toxic waste sites in communities across in the country.

The Superfund program has been funded by the so called polluter pays tax, an excise tax on oil and chemical companies and a corporate environmental income tax. President George W. Bush is the first president since Superfund's inception to oppose the polluter pays tax that keeps taxpayers from having to shoulder cleanup costs.

The Sierra Club says this opposition will affect people like Barb Brunton, a pediatric nurse and mother of four from Council Bluffs, Iowa, who used to grow her own vegetables in her back yard so that she could make homemade baby food for her young children.

The soil in Brunton's yard was contaminated with high levels of lead, the legacy of a nearby ASARCO lead refinery, and the vegetables she grew carried this led to her children. The ASARCO refinery closed in 1997, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now considering placing the site on the Superfund priority cleanup list - but lack of funding could delay cleanup of the site.

On Wednesday, a coalition of U.S. senators called on President George W. Bush to restore the polluter pays taxes and fees. In a letter to the president, Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, pointed out that, "One in every four Americans, including 10 million children, lives within four miles of a Superfund site, putting these individuals at a higher risk of cancer and other diseases.

"Toxic chemicals at these sites include arsenic, lead, mercury and even Agent Orange," Boxer wrote. "The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that living near a Superfund site is associated with increased birth defects, changes in pulmonary function, neurological damage and leukemia."

In June, the Bush administration also announced regulatory changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program that would undermine 30 years of progress in cleaning up America's air. Under these proposed new rules, some 17,000 power plants, chemical plants, steel mills and other major sources of pollution could expand or modify their facilities and increase emissions without modernizing air pollution controls.

This could impact Sammy Primm, who lives across the Chattahoochee River from a Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper mill in Alabama. Primm suffers from chronic congestion, and his skin and eyes burn.

The mill emits almost two million pounds of toxic pollution each year, most of it ethanol, a colorless, volatile, poisonous liquid. The Bush administration's New Source Review revisions would allow the plant to increase its ethanol emissions without installing new pollution control equipment.

The report, "Leaving Our Communities At Risk," profiles 25 communities across the country where the Sierra Club says the Bush Administration is jeopardizing family health and safety by weakening basic environmental protections.

"Abandoning our most important environmental protections leaves families and communities at risk, and only benefits corporate polluters," said Pope. "Instead, President Bush should be strengthening environmental protections and increasing environmental enforcement."

"Leaving Our Communities at Risk" is available at: http://www.sierraclub.org/communities

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Isadore Wallops Southeastern States

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - Former hurricane Isadore is dumping torrents of rain on the Gulf Coast states, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power.

By this afternoon, Isadore had been downgraded to a tropical depression, its winds having weakened since it hit land in Louisiana early this morning with 65 mile per hour gusts. Though its winds are now averaging just 35 miles per hour, it has been dropping up to two inches an hour of rain in parts of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

Earlier this week, Isadore was a Category 3 hurricane, bearing 85 mile per hour winds when it bore down on the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm killed at least two people in Central America and left some 300,000 people homeless.

Isadore

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Isidore taken at 8:15 am EDT today. (Photo courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Today, coastal storm surge flooding struck portions of the northern Gulf Coast and Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana. This flooding is expected to abate as the storm moves north, but localized flooding and possible tornadoes are expected overnight in portions of central and northern Alabama, as well as portions of central Georgia.

The center of the storm, moving north at about 25 miles per hour, will enter the Tennessee and Ohio valleys on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Isadore could carry four to eight more inches of rain into these areas; already, the storm is bringing welcome rain into drought stricken areas of the midwest and northeast.

But along the Gulf Coast, Isadore brought too much rain. In New Orleans, where more than two feet of rain have fallen in the past 48 hours, some streets were flooded with a couple feet of water as storm drains were overwhelmed by the runoff.

In preparation for the storm, many local schools and businesses closed their doors. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission activated an emergency response center to monitor the impacts of the storm on nuclear power plants near New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up mobile support groups and trucked in an emergency supply of fresh water.

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1.7 Million Acres Critical to Vernal Pool Species

SACRAMENTO, California, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to designate about 1.7 million acres in 36 California counties and 7,600 acres in Jackson County, Oregon as critical habitat for 15 wetland animals and plants.

Each of the 15 species, which include four species of freshwater shrimp and 11 plant species, depends on seasonally flooded wetlands known as vernal pools. Unlike 95 percent of California's grasslands, vernal pool complexes have been successful in warding off invasive non-native plants and still provide a haven for California's vanishing native plants.

The pools also play a valuable role in the food chain for a variety of animals, from birds of prey, migratory waterfowl and shorebirds to frogs, toads, salamanders and pollinating insects.

The main threat to the continued existence of these vernal pool species is loss of habitat, due to residential or commercial development and lands converted to agricultural uses. About 24 percent of the 1.7 million acres proposed for designation is in public ownership or is owned or administered by private conservation groups. The remainder is in private ownership.

"We are currently evaluating the economic effects of the proposed designation and seeking public input in the decision process," said Steve Thompson, manager of the USFWS California-Nevada operations office. "Designating critical habitat for 15 different species across a large geographic area has been a formidable challenge, and we hope to hear from all stakeholders in this important conservation decision so that we can develop a final designation that will help lead to recovering these at risk native animals and plants."

The listed species for which critical habitat is being proposed include four types of freshwater shrimp - the Conservancy fairy shrimp, longhorn fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp and vernal pool fairy shrimp; and 11 plants - the Butte County meadowfoam, hairy orcutt, slender orcutt, San Joaquin Valley orcutt, Sacramento orcutt, Solano grass, Greene's tuctoria, Colusa grass, succulent (or fleshy) owl's clover, Hoover's spurge and Contra Costa goldfields. One species, the vernal pool fairy shrimp, is also found in Oregon.

The USFWS will conduct a series of workshops and public hearings in October to explain the proposal and elicit public input during the 60 day comment period, which closes November 24. More information on the proposed critical habitat designation, including the full schedule of hearings and workshops, can be found at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office's Web site at: http://sacramento.fws.gov

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Four More California Condors Released

GRAND CANYON, Arizona, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - Four more California condors were released into the wild Wednesday, even as partners in the California Condor Recovery Program seek information regarding the death last month of a condor in Arizona.

Biologists from The Peregrine Fund released the four condors on top of the Vermilion Cliffs, near the Grand Canyon, bring Arizona's population of free flying California condors to 31. Three other condors are scheduled to be released later this year.

"Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park continue to be delighted by the sight of condors soaring near the rim," said Joseph Alston, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. "Condors from previous releases have nested three times in northern Arizona at Grand Canyon, which has provided an exceptional opportunity for expanding public awareness regarding conservation of rare species, while adding to the overall experience for visitors."

Three partners in the California Condor Recovery Program are offering rewards for information on the death of California condor #186. Researchers believe that Condor #186 died sometime between August 28 and 30 in the Kaibab National Forest in northwestern Arizona.

Condor #186 a male, hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo on April 15, 1998. He was transported to The Peregrine Fund's Hurricane Cliffs release site on the 8th of October 1998 and released with eight other condors on November 18th of the same year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a reward of up to $10,000, as is The Peregrine Fund, for information about the condor's death. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is offering up to $1,000.

As of September 1, 2002, there were 205 California condors in the world, 73 of which are in the wild in California and Arizona. In 1982, there were just 22 California condors in the entire world.

"The recovery of the California condor continues to make steady progress," said Dr. Bill Burnham, president of The Peregrine Fund. "The keys to this progress are the habitat and the community support provided in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah."

Regular updates regarding the condor's progress are available at The Peregrine Fund's website: http://www.peregrinefund.org

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Gill Nets Restricted to Help Turtles, Whales

WASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing new restrictions on gill net fishing to help protect sea turtles.

Last Friday, NMFS proposed rules that would close waters off Southern California to drift gillnet fishing in late August and January during El Nino years. Drift gillnet fishing vessels are now allowed to fish from August 15 to January 31.

The proposed rule shortens the season to September 1 to December 31 during El Nino years, because changes in ocean currents bring warmer waters and more loggerhead turtles north to southern California and into harms way.

This closure will affect the 81 boats that still are permitted to use drift gillnets, which drift below the surface and may entangle everything in their path. The boats still will be able to fish during the closure, but must do so north of Point Conception, which lies west of Santa Barbara near Lompoc and marks the edge of Southern California's waters.

"These fishing boats continue to kill not only loggerhead sea turtles, but also sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, leatherback sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, Steller sea lions, and other threatened and endangered species," said Brendan Cummings, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

NMFS has also implemented a rule to prohibit the nighttime deployment of gillnet straight sets from November 15 through March 31 each year off the coasts of Georgia and Florida. The rule is intended to reduce the chance of large whales becoming entangled in the nets.

Each year from mid-November through March, Atlantic right whales migrate to waters off the Florida and Georgia coast to calve and nurse. The whales' migration exposes them to entanglement in gillnets.

"Right whales are the rarest of all large whales and one of the most endangered species in the world," said NMFS Director Bill Hogarth. "This regulation will help protect them from becoming entangled in gillnets when they are most vulnerable."

In a straight set, the gillnet is placed in a line in the water column. NMFS biologists believe that straight set gillnets deployed during daytime are of minimal threat to whales, because the gear is retrieved within about one half hour of every set, and fishers are on site in case of an entanglement.

However, straight sets pose a higher level of risk of entanglement to whales at night because they are left in the water for long periods of time and whales are much more difficult to spot in the dark.

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Access is Free on National Public Lands Day

WASHINGTON, DC, September 26, 2002 (ENS) - In celebration of National Public Lands Day, the U.S. Forest Service will waive all entrance and most day use fees on Sept. 28 on national forests, grasslands and monuments.

"National forests and grasslands are America's playgrounds and provide healthful outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of Americans," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "Making September 28 a 'fee free day' encourages Americans to enjoy their public lands."

On September 28, all entrance fees and day use fees for activities such as hiking and picnicking will be waived. Fees will remain in effect for overnight camping, cabin rentals, permits, reservations, boat launches and activities offered by concessionaires.

The Forest Service manages 155 national forests and 20 grasslands, comprising 191 million acres in 44 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Recreation opportunities include 399 wilderness areas; 133,087 miles of hiking, horse and off-highway vehicle trails; extensive hunting and fishing areas; numerous heritage sites; 4,300 campgrounds; and 31 national recreation areas, scenic areas and monuments.

The Forest Service is scheduling events across the country in honor of National Public Lands Day. The events include working on trails, planting trees, mulching plants and clearing away brush and debris.

And this Saturday, eight Americans will complete a historic 60 day, 3,100 mile trek on public lands just east of Salt Lake City in a special Public Lands Day ceremony. This first of its kind trek across the nation's parks, forests and open lands was planned to help education Americans about the diverse benefits of these areas.

It was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior and more than 40 other organizations. More information about the trek is available at: http://www.americanfrontiers.net

"America's national forests and grasslands offer the single largest source of outdoor recreation opportunities in the United States," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "We encourage all Americans to become a partner in community land stewardship by taking part in the planned activities."

For information about National Public Lands Day activities, visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/npld/



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