EPA Nominee Blocked by Senator EdwardsWASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - North Carolina Democratic Senator John Edwards said Monday that he will block the nomination of Utah Governor Michael Leavitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Edwards will hold up progress on the Bush nominee until the administration responds to his year old request for a study of the human health consequences of Clean Air Act rollbacks.
"The nomination will not go forward until this administration commits to giving us the truth about how Clean Air Act rollbacks are going to affect our kids with asthma and seniors with health problems," Edwards said. "I have put a hold on this nomination to try to get the EPA to tell the truth about the safety of the air we breathe."
In August 2002 Edwards authored a bipartisan letter - signed by 44 senators - requesting that the "EPA conduct a rigorous analysis of the air pollution and public health impacts" of proposed changes in regulations under the Clean Air Act.
Senator Edwards later asked for the same information from Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation. According to the North Carolina Democrat, more than 13 months later, the Bush administration has not provided the analysis.
In addition, Congress passed legislation requiring the EPA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to complete a study of the impacts of new clean air regulations on air pollution. The EPA has failed to provide funding for that study to begin, said Edwards, who today formally announced his intent to run for 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
The move follows a similar threat by New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to hold up Leavitt's nomination in order to force Bush officials to respond to questions about a report that they downplayed air quality concerns from the New York terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Bush Will Not Appeal Court Invalidation of Roadless RuleCHEYENNE, Wyoming, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration will not appeal a Wyoming judge's ruling invalidating the roadless rule, which bans roadbuilding within some 58 million acres - or one third - of the national forests for commercial activities.
In July, U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer agreed with the state of Wyoming, which had argued the rule was illegal.
The Bush administration had until September 12 to appeal the ruling, but has chosen not to do so.
"When you talk about protecting the last undeveloped areas of our national forest and leaving them for future generation, as past generations left them for us, you are being responsible and accountable," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell. "The Bush administration just passed on their chance to be accountable to future generations of Americans."
The roadless rule - officially called the Roadless Area Conservation Rule - has been a source of controversy since it was put into effect in January 2001 during the dying days of the Clinton administration.
It does allow the construction of new roads if needed to fight fires or to protect public health and safety, but the administration believes the rule goes to far.
A proposal by the Bush administration would grant state governors the ability to apply for exemptions from the roadless rule. In addition, the administration settled a suit by the state of Alaska. As part of this settlement, the administration is moving forward with rules to lift the Tongass and Chugach National Forests - the nation's two largest national forests - from the roadless rule.
The nation's public forests and grasslands already have more than 380,000 miles of existing roads, and conservationists believe the roadless rule is critical to the long term protection of the nation's remaining wild places.
More than two million Americans have submitted comments on the rule during the federal rulemaking process, with more than 90 percent in favor of the rule.
Nine lawsuits involving seven states have been filed challenging the rule over the past two years. Prior to the Wyoming decision, the most recent ruling had been made by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the rule.
Fish and Wildlife Service Eyes Revisions to Endangered Species ActWASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed two new rules to revise regulations governing conservation agreements for federally designated threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
According to Bush administration officials, the proposed rules are intended to expand citizen conservation by addressing landowner concerns and more fully describe the range of activities that can be permitted in conjunction with a Safe Harbor Agreement or a Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs).
Both Safe Harbor Agreements and CCAAs are intended to remove potential disincentives for landowners to manage their property for the benefit of listed and candidate species, but the Bush administration says that some landowners have made it clear that they need a better understanding of the obligations and benefits provided by either plan before they will participate in agreements.
"The administration is continually looking for ways to make the Endangered Species Act work better," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams. "We believe these proposed changes will result in increased numbers of landowners working with us to develop Safe Harbor Agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances."
The first proposed rule will restate eligibility for both kinds of agreements, in order to provide definitions for conservation and mitigation that are consistent with related policies and the intent of the agreements.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the proposal more explicitly provides landowners with greater certainty that such agreements will be altered only if continuing an authorized activity may jeopardize the existence of the protected species.
A second proposed rule would revise the permit associated with Safe Harbor Agreements and CCAAs to more clearly state the federal agency's ability to authorize "take" - capturing, killing or otherwise disturbing or harming a species or its habitat - in conjunction with activities such as reintroduction and habitat restoration. This rule would be in effect when the benefits of habitat protection or restoration provided by the associated agreements outweigh any impacts caused by anticipated take of protected species.
"Both of these programs provide immense conservation benefits while helping citizens coexist with imperiled species," said Williams. "Both proposed rules will create a cooperative context that encourages landowners to participate as citizen stewards in protecting endangered, threatened, and other species."
The Bush administration has been sharply criticized by many conservationists for its policies on endangered species, but these revisions appear to have support from some in the environmental community.
"These revisions should make it clearer and easier for landowners to participate in these novel conservation agreements," said Michael Bean, chair of Environmental Defense's wildlife program. Environmental Defense has brokered a slew of such agreements, including a recent Safe Harbor Agreement with vintner Robert Mondavi to protect the California red legged frog.
Comments on the proposed rules will be accepted through November 10, 2003.
Interior Doles Out $12.9 Million in Conservation GrantsWASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton today doled out $12.9 in federal grants, which she says will complete 256 conservation projects in conjunction with states, local communities, businesses, landowners, and other partners.
The funds are being made available through cost share grants under the President's Cooperative Conservation Initiative. The grants are from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service will fund a wide range of conservation projects ranging from restoring wetland prairie habitat in Oregon to restoring forested wetlands damaged by a tornado in Maryland to building water catchments for endangered bighorn sheep in New Mexico.
"If conservation is going to be successful in the 21st century, it must be a partnership between the American people and the government," Norton said. The grants help federal land managers "foster partnerships within local communities across America, allowing them to come up with innovative solutions to the complex challenges and leveraging federal dollars with cost share contributions," Norton said.
The projects involve more than 700 partners in 40 states and Puerto Rico and will conserve or restore more than 50,000 acres, according to the Interior Department. Partners are required at least to match the federal grants, so overall funding for the projects totals more than $35 million.
President George W. Bush proposed the challenge cost share grants as a tool for federal land managers to use in creating cooperative conservation projects.
Congress included the $12.9 million as part of the existing challenge cost share budgets of each of the agencies.
"The most effective conservation projects are the ones that are conceived and carried out at the local level, by the people who live and work on the land," Norton said.
"While the nation's banner environmental regulations have helped protect endangered species and move us toward cleaner air and healthier landscapes, frequently the biggest building blocks for sustainable conservation have come from citizens, working alone and in partnerships," the Interior Secretary added. "Our goal is to empower the American people to become citizen conservationists, working together to achieve what the government alone cannot achieve."
Enviros Hail Withdrawal of Florida Conservation Easement PlanTALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - Environmental groups are praising the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for withdrawing a proposal for a 24,000 acre conservation easement in Florida's Glades County. Environmentalists had criticized the $24 million proposal as "misguided."
"This proposal was not a conservation easement, it was a development permit, with taxpayers footing the bill," said Nina Baliga of the Florida Public Interest Research Group. "Allowing this proposal to go forward would have undermined the very concept of the conservation easement, and opened the door to all sorts of shady deals aimed at exploiting our natural heritage."
The proposal would have allowed commercial water well fields, oil and gas drilling and construction of reservoirs on 24,000 acres of land currently used for cattle ranching and hunting.
"The decision to withdraw the proposal is an important victory for the Florida Water Coalition," said David Guest, managing attorney of Earthjustice's Tallahassee office. "This fiasco puts the state on notice that there will be attempts to get money from the state for conservation without actually protecting anything."
The proposed Glades County easement would have covered 24,000 acres in the Fisheating Creek area, on land owned by agricultural giant Lykes Bros. Inc.
Although the purpose of the easement was to protect the delicate wetlands, forest and native range ecosystems, the Department of Environmental Protection proposed to allow Lykes to engage in activities many believe would have been harmful to the environment.
These activities included the drilling of oil and gas wells on more than 71 percent of the land, including building roads and pipelines, and covering the land with deep water reservoirs for water storage.
"This land is certainly worthy of preservation," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We hope and expect that the state will renegotiate the easement so that the ecological values and water resources that give it value are truly protected."
New York Harbor Clean Ferry Initiative Chugs ForwardNEW YORK, New York, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - A $5 million federal grant awarded today will help fuel the formation and funding of the Clean Ferry Emissions Reduction Initiative for New York Harbor. The $6.8 initiative, supported by city, state, federal, education and environmental organizations, will identify and put into place clean fuels and best available retrofit technologies to cut pollution from diesel powered ferries in New York Harbor.
Ferries are an integral part of the city's transportation network, but existing models produce dirty emissions with serious impacts on health and the environment. This project is expected to clean emissions from more than 40 diesel powered ferries - some 85 percent of the total ferries in New York Harbor. Currently, none of the ferries in the Harbor are equipped with pollution controls.
By using retrofits and cleaner fuels like ultra low sulfur diesel, this project could reduce emissions by 75 to 90 percent.
"Diesel emissions contain more than 40 cancer causing compounds, and since 9/11 the number of diesel ferries in New York Harbor has almost doubled," said Environmental Defense Living Cities program director Andy Darrell. "By putting enough funding on the table to clean up virtually every private ferry in the Harbor, it looks like smooth sailing toward healthier air for New York Harbor. New York is now poised to lead the country and the world in developing clean diesel technology for marine applications."
Every resident of New York City breathes air that fails to meet basic air quality standards, and diesel is a major source of that pollution. In New York County, 80 percent of the added cancer risk from poor air quality is due to mobile sources, and for many compounds, diesel is the main culprit.
"While upcoming EPA regulations will reduce emissions from new ferry engines, this retrofit program will help us breathe easier about the ferries we already have," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny.
Race to Stop Global Warming Picks Up the PacePORTLAND, Oregon, September 16, 2003 (ENS) - The annual series of events designed to raise awareness of climate change issues - the Race to Stop Global Warming series - continues to wind its way across the nation.
Four races have already been completed in Denver, Portland, San Francisco and Boston, with four more yet to come - Chicago on September 21, Seattle on September 28, New York City on October 15 and Minneapolis/St. Paul on October 18.
The races and events are coordinated by the Green House Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a grassroots movement to stop global warming.
The Race to Stop Global Warming series, which is in its fourth year, was conceived to bring visibility to the issue of global warming while providing participants with information and practical solutions for how they can reduce their contribution to climate change.
The first event was held in Portland, Oregon on April 22, 2000 - the 30th anniversary of Earth Day.
Last month, Green House Network announced the appointment of actress and environmentalist Blythe Danner as the National Honorary Chair for the Race to Stop Global Warming series.
Danner, who is scheduled to appear at New York City's first annual race, which kicks off at 6:30 pm on October 15 in Central Park, said she is "deeply honored" to serve in this role
"This event presents us all with a golden opportunity to focus our attention on our most dire environmental problem today," Danner said. "We know that only by making a concerted effort to do all we can to reduce energy consumption and accelerate our use of alternative energy, will there be a chance to leave the world a better place for our children and grandchildren."
The events feature participation by a range of nonprofit environmental organizations to offer educational materials on the science and solutions of climate change.
The international conservation group WWF has partnered with Green House Network for this year's campaign and will highlight this year's focus on the plight of the polar bear.
"Climb on board and join the race," said Danner. "We are off and running to take the message not only to Americans all across the country, but to the White House which especially needs to hear our message loud and clear."
For more information on the events, see http://www.racetostopglobalwarming.org.