New Nukes Survive Senate ChallengeWASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - Senate Democrats failed Tuesday to strip funding for research into new nuclear weapons from a fiscal year 2004 spending bill. The legislation, which funds water and energy projects, includes $15 million for research into nuclear "bunker buster" weapons and $6 million for low yield nuclear weapons less than five kilotons.
An amendment to remove the funding, introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, was rejected by a partisan vote of 53 to 41. Only one Democrat voted to keep the nuclear weapon funding - no Republicans voted to strip the funding.
The 2004 military spending bill passed in May by the U.S. Senate lifted a decade old ban on researching new low yield nuclear weapons - a five kiloton nuclear weapon is about half the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
The Bush administration says research into these new nuclear weapons will make the nation's nuclear arsenal into a more effective deterrent, because these kinds of weapons could reduce the potential for causing civilian casualties and could improve the effectiveness of nuclear weapons in destroying deeply buried and hardened targets.
Republicans stressed that the funding is only for research - the administration would have to ask Congress for authority to develop the new nukes.
But Feinstein and other critics are concerned that the Bush administration's plan blurs the line between the use of nuclear and conventional weapons and could undermine the international effort to contain the world's development of nuclear weapons.
"By seeking to develop new nuclear weapons, the United States sends a message that nuclear weapons have a future battlefield role and utility," Feinstein said. "This is the wrong direction and, in my view, will only cause America to be placed in greater jeopardy in the future."
Critics say the administration's concept of modifying or developing nuclear weapons for use against deeply buried and hardened targets is not only misguided, but fundamentally flawed.
Low collateral, low yield bunker buster nuclear bombs are a "physical myth," according to Sidney Drell, a nuclear physicist with Stanford University.
The House version of the bill cut the funding for mini nukes and reduced funding for the bunker buster nukes to $5 million - the differences between the House and Senate versions will be ironed out by a joint conference committee.
Bush Urges Congress to Pass Clear SkiesWASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - Despite renewed efforts by President George W. Bush to rally support for his Clear Skies legislation, clouds continue to gather over the future of the controversial emissions reduction plan.
Bush told a White House audience Tuesday that his plan "will make it financially worthwhile for companies to invest earlier in controls, and therefore pollute less. And by taking this action - and I urge Congress to take the action - we will have more affordable energy, more jobs and cleaner skies."
The Clear Skies plan uses a cap and trade approach that has proven successful in reducing acid rain and the administration says it will reduce power plant emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury by some 70 percent by 2018.
"Clear Skies legislation would further improve the health of our citizens, promote new technologies that would dramatically decrease emissions, help communities meet environmental standards and help create new jobs for American workers," Bush said. "Congress must act on this initiative."
This was the President's second straight day of public lobbying for his plan, which many believe is faltering in Congress.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill that mirrors the bipartisan Senate Clean Air Planning Act, which has emerged as a clear rival to the President's plan.
The Clean Air Planning Act includes limits on carbon dioxide - something the Bush administration refuses to support. And according to analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Planning Act would reduce pollution of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury more quickly and with greater health benefits than Clear Skies.
But the President is holding firm with his plan, which died in Congress last year.
"People in this country must understand that we can have a pro growth agenda, a pro job agenda and a pro environment agenda at the same time, and Clear Skies legislation is just that," Bush said.
EPA Settles Diesel Irrigation Pump Engine CaseSAN FRANCISCO, California, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to tighten regulation of air pollution from diesel irrigation pump engines in California. The decision settles a lawsuit filed in May 2003 by community, public health, and environmental groups.
"EPA was sending the message to agricultural sources in California and to polluters everywhere that you do not need to obey the Clean Air Act," said Anne Harper of Earthjustice, who represented the Sierra Club, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, and Our Children's Earth Foundation in the suit. "The EPA had to correct that message."
That lawsuit challenged the Bush administration's decision to issue permit applications to agricultural sources of air pollution in California requesting that they "estimate" their own "actual" emissions from diesel irrigation pump engines in order to determine whether they needed a permit.
The plaintiffs argued that the Clean Air Act does not allow sources to guess what their own emissions are likely to be, rather it requires sources to be regulated on the basis of their "potential to emit."
The coalition of groups called EPA's shortcut "regulating with a wink and a nod," and said it encouraged farmers to underestimate their own emissions so that they could avoid applying for permits.
"The Clean Air Act requires major sources to be regulated based on their 'potential to emit' to prevent sources from rigging the game," explained Brent Newell an attorney for the Center on Race Poverty and the Environment who represented the Association of Irritated Residents. "Asking farmers to guess how many hours they intend to run irrigation pump engines over the next year opened up an enormous opportunity for them to avoid regulation and be rewarded for guessing wrong."
According to the settlement agreement, EPA will withdrawal the previous guidance, issue new permit applications regulating sources based on the "potential to emit" standard for diesel engines, and set a new date of November 13, 2003, to collect applications from sources.
Congress Looks for Emergency Wildfire FundsWASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of 40 U.S. Representatives sent a letter Tuesday to House leaders requesting they advance an emergency appropriation to supplement wildfire efforts.
The federal agencies tasked with fighting wildfires on federal lands - the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department - have exhausted their fiscal 2003 wildfire suppression funding and are having to divert resources from other programs to sustain fire fighting efforts. The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could face a shortfall of some $330 million and the Forest Service a shortfall of $420 million.
Given this situation, wrote the members, "there is a desperate need for Congress to promptly move a wildfire funding supplemental."
"Whatever the legislative vehicle, we urge you to give the House of Representatives the opportunity to meet this emergency need," the letter states.
In late July, the House cut some $310 million in supplemental funding to fight wildfires from an emergency supplemental funding bill for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Bush administration had requested an additional $289 million to fight wildfires - a figure approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in early July. House leaders decided to pull the firefighting money in the final vote before the August recess. They argued that doing so ensured that the Senate was certain to adopt the bill if it only included FEMA, which can not borrow money from other funds - unlike the Forest Service and the BLM.
Speaking in support of the letter sent Tuesday, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio said it is time "we get off this merry go round."
Every year Congress underfunds the agencies' firefighting budgets, DeFazio said, and "every fire season they are forced to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars from their fuel reduction funds, leaving them with paltry resources to do the work that will prevent future fires."
Nineteen large fires are currently burning in the Western United States - some 3.1 million acres have bunt this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
"Continuing along this endless cycle of tearing away funds from fuels reduction and other programs for suppression work is like robbing Peter to pay Paul and is not a real a solution," said Colorado Republican Scott McInnis, chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. "We must aid these agencies in getting out of this financial straitjacket and supply them with the funds to protect the health of our forests and the safety of our communities."
A Big Boost for Green PowerWASHINGTON DC, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - The World Resources Institute (WRI) and 12 major corporations today announced 97 megawatts (MW) of green power deals, including the largest corporate fuel cell and renewable energy certificate deals in the United States.
The 12 corporations involved are members of WRI's Green Power Market Development Group, a commercial and industrial partnership dedicated to building corporate markets for green power.
Its members are Alcoa Inc, Cargill Dow LLC, Delphi Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, General Motors, IBM, Interface, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko's, Pitney Bowes, and Staples.
"The Green Power Group is beginning to make green power markets work for corporate buyers," said Charles Holliday, Jr., DuPont chairman and CEO. "WRI has helped us find cost effective green power and proven that the marketplace has products to meet corporate energy and environmental goals."
The deal announced today includes enough energy to power 73,000 homes.
It represents purchases made in the past year by 250 facilities in 22 states and the District of Columbia and brings the total amount purchased by The Green Power Group to 112 MW since it started identifying green power options in 2001.
The purchases announced today include a wide variety of green power technologies and products to match corporate interests. From on site solar power and landfill gas to electricity from wind farms, WRI says the projects offer the companies the best economic and environmental value.
The international research group touts green power as an opportunity for companies to lower their exposure to fluctuating fossil fuel prices. WRI says on site projects like fuel cells or solar power can help companies protect themselves against grid disruptions, and purchasing green power reduces the carbon dioxide emissions of business activities.
"From hydrogen fuel cells to solar panels on rooftops, new green power products are emerging for corporate markets," said WRI President Jonathan Lash. "These purchases help bring down prices, reduce pollution, and build a robust market to deliver a clean energy future."
Army Faces Lawsuit Over Hawaii Endangered Species ViolationsHONOLULU, Hawaii, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - A Hawaiian community group has told the U.S. Army that it intends to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at the Makua Military Reservation.
The Wai'nae Coast community group says it will sue unless the Army promptly reinitiates formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess potential impacts of military activities at reservation on more than 40 endangered plant and animal species.
The ESA requires the Army to reinitiate such formal consultation based on the "new information" provided by the catastrophic fire at the Makua Military Reservation set by the Army on July 22, 2003. That fire burned much of site and destroyed at least 71 individual endangered plants and 150 acres of designated critical habitat for an endangered forest bird and endangered plants.
"If the Army's fire management plans were adequate, the July 2003 fire would not have turned into a disaster," said David Henkin, an attorney with the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice, which filed the notice on behalf of the local Hawaiian group. "You have to remember that this fire was not started by accident. The law requires the Army immediately to reinitiate consultation to ensure that such a disaster never happens again."
The group adds that a restart of formal consultation is also required due to the designation on June 17, 2003 of critical habitat for at least 35 species of endangered plants on the Makua Military Reservation's borders, some of which burned during the July 2003 fire.
To date, the Army has refused to comply with the legal mandate to reinitiate formal consultation, despite repeated requests from the community to do so.
"For nearly two months, we have been asking the Army to do the right thing, to go into formal consultation to make sure that military activities at Makua do not push native species to extinction," said Malama Makua board member Sparky Rodrigues. "But enough is enough. It is time for the Army to stop foot dragging and start consulting."
Feds Announce Recovery Plan for Endangered SquirrelPORTLAND, Oregon, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - The Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a final recovery plan for the northern Idaho ground squirrel. The species, which is found only in Idaho, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in April, 2000.
The northern Idaho ground squirrel has the most restricted range of any North American ground squirrel species - its entire range is only 20 by 61 miles.
The plan recommends establishing a minimum of 10 primary "metapopulations" - each maintaining an average effective population size of greater than 500 individuals for five consecutive years. It also calls for the creation of associated dispersal corridors to enhance the squirrel's preferred open meadow habitat, the development of effective transplantation efforts to increase genetic diversity of wild populations.
"The ultimate goal of this recovery plan is to increase northern Idaho ground squirrel populations so the species can eventually be delisted. said Dave Allen, regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Region. "We are committed to working with others toward its recovery."
The plan also calls for general research, establishing a captive breeding program, and continuing field research and monitoring.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says the estimated cost of squirrel recovery is approximately $304,600 per year beginning in 2003, with a total estimate of some $2.44 million if recovery actions are successful and the species is delisted as anticipated in 2010.
In 1985, the total northern Idaho ground squirrel population at 18 known sites was about 5,000 squirrels. By 1998, when the species was proposed for listing under the Act, fewer than 1,000 individuals were known to exist. Spring 2002 population estimates indicated about 450 to 500 animals exist at 29 population sites.
The primary threat to the northern Idaho ground squirrel is habitat loss and fragmentation.
Ocean Plant Life Becoming Less ProductiveSILVER SPRING, Maryland, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - Plant life in the world's oceans has become less productive since the early 1980s and is absorbing less carbon, according to scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The researchers, who have completed a study that combines NASA satellite data with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) surface observations of marine plants, say the study's findings could impact the Earth's carbon cycle.
"This research shows ocean primary productivity is declining, and it may be a result of climate changes such as increased temperatures and decreased iron deposition into parts of the oceans," said Watson Gregg, a NASA researcher and lead author of the study. "This has major implications for the global carbon cycle."
The study centers on the oceans' net primary productivity (NPP), which is the rate at which plant cells take in carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis from sunlight, using the carbon for growth
Microscopic ocean plants called phytoplankton account for about half the transfer of CO2 from the environment into plant cells by photosynthesis.
The researchers determined that the oceans' NPP has declined more than six percent globally over the last two decades, possibly as a result of climatic changes.
The authors found some 70 percent of the NPP global decline per decade occurred in the high latitudes - above 30 degrees.
In the North Pacific and North Atlantic basins, phytoplankton bloom rapidly in high concentrations in spring, leading to shorter, more intense lifecycles. In these areas, plankton quickly dies and can sink to the ocean floor, creating a potential pathway of carbon from the atmosphere into the deep ocean.
In the high latitudes, rates of plankton growth declined by seven percent in the North Atlantic basin, nine percent in the North Pacific basin, and 10 percent in the Antarctic basin when comparing the 1980s dataset with the late 1990s observations.
The researchers not that the decline in global ocean NPP corresponds with an increase in global sea surface temperatures - warmer water can keep phytoplankton growth in check at the surface.
In addition, the amount of iron deposited from desert dust clouds into the global oceans decreased by 25 percent over two decades. Reductions in NPP in the South Pacific were associated with a 35 percent decline in atmospheric iron deposition.
"These results illustrate the complexities of climate change, since there may be one or more processes, such as changes in temperature and the intensity of winds, influencing how much carbon dioxide is taken up by photosynthesis in the oceans," said sutdy coauthor Margarita Conkright, a scientist at NOAA's National Oceanographic Data Center.
The study appeared in a recent issue of "Geophysical Research Letters."