Democrats Demand Answers About EPA's 9/11 ReportWASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - Senate Democrats are threatening to block the Bush administration's nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to force Bush officials to respond to questions about a report that they down played air quality concerns from the New York terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said this weekend she would personally block the nomination of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to the post of EPA Administrator and she received support for such a move by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Senate rules allow individual Senators to put a hold on a nomination to prevent a confirmation vote.
The threat comes in response to a report released last month by the EPA's Inspector General that said the White House pressured the agency to remove cautionary statements from news releases distributed after the attacks and to include statements that would reassured that the risks to public health were minimal.
The report also criticizes the agency for failing to press residents and businesses to seek professional cleaning in contaminated apartments instead of doing the cleaning themselves.
Clinton and Lieberman sent a letter to the White House on August 26 outlining concerns about the report and asking for an account of what influence the administration levied to change the content of the message conveyed by the agency. The request that this letter be answered by September 5 has not been met by the White House, which has accused the Democrats of politicizing the issue.
Former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman said the administration did remove words of caution from agency releases, but that she did not object to this decision. Whitman said the White House did not ask anyone to lie about New York City's air quality in the wake of the attack and made the changes to ensure that the public not be unduly frightened about health risks.
But Whitman's assurances have not satisfied Democrats, who want hearings on the subject and specific answers from the White House.
"Our government let us down. And it was not by accident, and it was not a mistake during the chaos of those terrible days," Clinton said on the Senate floor Friday. "A national crisis does not justify giving people the wrong information and continuing to do so days and weeks and months after the event."
Army to Pay $2.3 Million Fine for Alaska Clean Air ViolationsSEATTLE, Washington, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Army will spend $2.3 million to settle a 1999 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) complaint accusing the Army of years of major violations of the federal Clean Air Act at its Fort Wainwright installation in Alaska.
The complaint was subsequently amended to include violations at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The Army has agreed to pay a $600,000 penalty, install pollution controls known as bag houses on all its coal fired boilers at the Fort Wainwright central heat and power plants, and spend an additional $1.7 million on related environmental improvement projects at the two facilities.
"This is a good outcome in a difficult case," said EPA Regional Administrator John Iani. "While resolution of this case has taken time, it is a clear example of enforcement being the right tool for the job."
Most of the violations in the EPA's 1999 complaint occurred at the facilities' central heat and power plants, which operate coal fired boilers originally constructed in the 1950s.
Fort Wainwright operates six coal fired boilers that are part of the largest coal fired power plant operated by the U.S. military.
An EPA Administrative Law Judge ruled in July 2001 that the Army had indeed committed multiple violations of the Clean Air Act' s requirements.
The violations were due primarily to the Army's decade long failure to install bag houses on its boilers to control particulate matter.
The Army also failed to install and operate monitoring equipment at its central heat and power plant facilities and failed to control fugitive dust emissions. The Army permanently shut down the Fort Richardson coal fired boilers in 1999.
The EPA and the Army estimate that the corrective actions will reduce emissions of 1,140 tons per year of particulate matter at Fort Wainwright.
At Fort Richardson, the corrective actions are estimated to reduce particulate matter by 23 tons per year, nitrogen oxides by 41 tons per year, and sulfur dioxide by 37 tons per year.
The supplemental environmental projects include the installation of electric headbolt heater outlets around its installations to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from idling motor vehicles and the decommissioning/retrofitting of snow machines and outboard motors with cleaner two stroke engines. The Army will also implement a comprehensive reforestation and revegetation program at the installations and acquire two street sweepers and the paving of some dirt roads to reduce fugitive dust.
Conservationists to Sue Klamath Hydro OperatorPORTLAND, Oregon, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - An Oregon conservation group intends to sue PacificCorp for operating two unscreened hydropower diversion canals at the south end of Upper Klamath Lake. Unscreened canals kill the lake's two endangered fish species, according to the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC), which sent the 60 day notice of intent to sue.
"These hydro diversions kill thousands of smaller to older endangered fish plus tens of thousands of recently hatched fish," said ONRC's Southern Oregon Field Representative Wendell Wood. "Many non listed fish species are also caught or trapped in the canal and are then killed while passing through the power generating penstocks."
Since the 1990s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that extremely large numbers of endangered fish become entrained in the Link River hydropower diversions in Upper Klamath Lake. In 1991, ONRC sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to screen its main water diversion, the A-Canal.
The ONRC says that the BOR has focused attention on the recent screening of the primary A-Canal water diversion, but has made little mention of PacifiCorp's unscreened hydropower diversion canals, which divert and then return water to the Link River down two long flumes near the A-Canal.
"It took BOR twelve years to screen the A-Canal and now PacifiCorp's failures are being ignored," said Wood. "PacifiCorp's diversion canals entrain at least as many fish as the unscreened A-Canal did. We can not afford to wait it another 12 years before the killing of endangered fish by these hydropower diversions is halted."
The fish of concern to ONRC are endemic Klamath Basin fish species known locally as the Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker.
The Lost River sucker is the only surviving species in its genus. It achieves a length of one meter, weighs up to 40 pounds and can live more than 40 years. The short nose sucker is approximately 18 inches in length and may live more than 30 years.
Bush Blocks National Park Wilderness DesignationsWASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration has blocked efforts to place some half million acres of national park lands in protected wilderness status, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The watchdog group reports the Interior Department is not sending findings that areas merit protection onto Congress, as required by the 1964 Wilderness Act. That law created a national mandate to identify and preserve American wilderness in perpetuity and requires the Secretary of Interior to review every contiguous roadless area of greater than 5,000 acres within the park system to determine its suitability for wilderness.
Once tracts are found suitable for wilderness, the Interior Department Secretary is required to transmit those findings to Congress, but PEER says Park Service documents show that Bush political appointees are blocking park wilderness assessments, including assessments started during the second Clinton term from reaching Congress.
These studies include assessments of Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve, California's Channel Islands National Park, Texas's Guadalupe National Park and Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
PEER reports that during the past several months, Interior Department officials have not acted on wilderness designations proposed by park officials based on those assessments. These include proposed wilderness designations for 128,000 acres of Big Cypress, 68,000 acres in the Channel Islands, 38,000 acres of Guadalupe National Park and 7,7000 acres of Pictured Rocks.
"The Bush administration is reducing the Wilderness Act to a dead letter," said PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long time Park Service manager. "The clear pattern exhibited by Secretary Norton and her top aides has been to consistently overturn decisions of career park professionals that conflict with industrial and recreational special interests to which this administration is beholden."
PEER says that the Bush administration has failed to transmit recommendations from previous administrations that Congress designate more than two million acres of roadless areas as wilderness in eight parks in the Lower 48, including Grand Canyon, Voyageurs, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Glen Canyon National Parks. Some 17 million more acres in Alaska's national parks are similarly in limbo, according to PEER.
The watchdog group says such failures are in apparent violation of the Wilderness Act and park enabling acts.
Critics of Bush Forest Policy Showcase 440 Year Old Tree StumpWASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - Conservationists are displaying a 440 year old tree stump at the U.S. Capitol today and Tuesday as a symbol of their protests of the Bush administration's forest management policies.
Two former employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) - Derek Volkart and Joseph Vaile - have taken the giant tree stump on a 3,000-mile journey from Oregon to Washington DC, exhibiting it to Americans and explaining their belief that the administration's Bush's forest policies are threatening the nation's forests. Their journey began August 28, and traveled through 13 States, the tour ends in the nation's Capitol on Sept. 9.
The massive six foot diameter stump is all that remains of an ancient tree that was logged in Oregon under a controversial timber sale.
Critics say such logging projects could become the norm under the Bush administration's forest thinning plan known as "Healthy Forests." The administration contends that the threat of wildfires requires the thinning of the nation's forests, but many believe the removal of large old growth trees increases the risk of fire and undermines the health of forest ecosystems.
"This tree survived numerous fires over the centuries," said Volkart. "This administration is calling for the logging of forests in the backcountry and ignoring the real fuel hazards that exist near homes and communities. Their rhetoric is nothing more than a smokescreen for old growth logging."
The tree, dubbed the "Shakespeare Tree" because it dated back to the time of Shakespeare during the 1560s, was logged in April in the BLM forest area in Medford, Oregon.
The BLM said that this logging project would improve the forest by clearing away dense thickets of trees to increase sunlight and moisture to the area. But such projects often leave behind just six to 10 trees per acre and conservationists consider this a "virtual clear cut."
The logging project will remove more than seven million board feet of timber and the average diameter of the trees in this timber sale is 26.3 inches. The project took away the largest and most fire- resistant trees, while leaving behind smaller trees that are less valuable to the timber industry.
Researchers to Explore Deep Waters in Gulf of MexicoFORT PIERCE, Florida, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - U.S. researchers today embarked on a mission to explore deep sea sites in the Gulf of Mexico, including abandoned oil rigs and an ancient shoreline.
The research team will explore a broad range of habitats to find new marine organisms that produce compounds with pharmaceutical potential as well as to document the Gulf's rich biodiversity.
The team includes members from the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration, as well as a Florida teacher.
"Basically no research has been done on the biomedical potential of Gulf of Mexico deep sea resources," said John Reed, Harbor Branch's mission coordinator for the Division of Biomedical Marine Research (DBMR).
This exploration will focus on hard bottom areas of the Gulf seafloor from the southwest tip of Florida north toward the panhandle off the coast of Alabama.
These include pinnacles of Lophelia coral that rise up to 500 feet from the sea floor in some areas, coldwater seeps where oil and gas bubble up from the bottom to support unique organisms, and sinkholes most likely formed by seepage of freshwater out of aquifers beneath the seafloor.
Most of such sites are situated along an ancient limestone ledge, which runs parallel to Florida's west coast and was once the shoreline 15,000 years ago before sea level rose to its current state.
The team will also be the first to explore the deep reaches of some of the decommissioned oil rigs scattered throughout the Gulf to learn what organisms live there.
Studies of shallow areas of platforms have suggested that they are oases of marine life. During the mission, researchers hope to catalog the diversity of organisms on two of these manmade leviathans at depths as great as 1,000 feet as well as collect any new species anchored there.
"I expect to find new organisms that we have never encountered before on any of our other trips," said Dr. Shirley Pomponi, vice president and director of research for DBMR.
Parasitic Flatworms Seek Their HostsLOS ANGELES, California, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - The larvae of a common parasitic flatworm actively swim toward their hosts, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). These parasites, known as digenetic flatworms, bring disease and death to animals and people around the world.
The findings of the study appeared in the September issue of the Ecological Society of America's journal "Ecology." It is the first study to examine larval behavior versus passive transport processes under natural and simulated water flow conditions.
The digenetic flatworm is one of the most common parasitic flatworms found in southern California and sexual reproduction takes place in definitive host birds, which defecate the parasite's eggs into marshes.
The first swimming larval stage infect the California horn snail, where asexual reproduction ensues, producing tens of free swimming larvae per snail per day, which encyst on other snails and crabs as second intermediate hosts.
Birds which eat the snails and crabs complete the parasite's life cycle.
The UCLA researchers wanted to determine what explains the unusually high transmission rate of the second larval stage - these larvae encyst up to 100 percent of the local snail and crab second intermediate hosts. This is even though this larval stage has but four hours to locate and infect its host.
The researchers examined the range of variation and effect on larval swimming of relevant physical factors - light, temperature, salinity and water flow.
In still water experiments, the researchers found that exposure to light caused the larvae to "swim straight toward the bottom of the water body where they were likely to encounter their hosts," explains study coauthor Jonathan Fingerut of UCLA. "And while salinity had no impact on either swim speed or direction, a 33 percent increase in water temperature led to a 71 percent increase in the larvae's swim speeds, bringing the larvae to the bottom faster."
When the researchers looked at the same variables in slow moving water conditions, they found similar results, although fast moving water bodies overwhelmed the larvae's ability to control their movements and they were distributed throughout the water column, much like passive particles.
Scientists Unveil New Mad Cow TestNEW YORK, New York, September 8, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) say they may have found a faster, more reliable test for identifying mad cow disease - possibly even in living cows. Current tests can only detect the disease after the cow dies.
Critics argue that the standard immunoassay tests used to identify the infectious prion proteins that cause mad cow disease are inadequate for large scale screening of cattle. The tests can produce false readings and may take a week to yield results.
The new test, which has already undergone animal studies, can detect prion proteins with 100 percent accuracy at much smaller levels than conventional tests and only takes about five hours to produce results, according to the UCSF researchers.
Like conventional tests, the new test is designed for detecting prions in the brain tissue of cows only upon autopsy. Unlike other tests, however, the new test also shows promise for detecting the proteins in muscle tissue and even blood while the animal is still alive.
If so, it could be used to identify precisely which animals are infected before they show symptoms and could help end the current practice of slaughtering whole herds, the scientists say.
"This represents a new generation of prion tests," says project leader Dr. Jiri Safar, an associate adjunct professor at University of California and a member of the school's Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases. "It is the most promising test to date for accurately detecting prion proteins."
Called the conformation-dependent immunoassay (CDI), the test was described Friday at the 226th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Safar says the test has been used in a field trial to check for signs of the disease in the brains of 11,000 slaughtered cows in Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Results were compared to those from standard immunoassays performed on the same animals. There were no discrepancies between the tests, according to Safar.
"We had a perfect score. There were no false positives and no false negatives," says Safar. "We can not afford incorrect conclusions, and we did not see that in our tests."
The research group plans to use the test on an even larger scale among European cattle herds within the next year, checking them for signs of the disease upon autopsy.
If further tests prove successful, Safar hopes it will eventually be used to evaluate dead cows in this country for mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephelopathy, or BSE.