Senate Seeks to Clear Grazing From Environmental ReviewWASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - The fiscal year 2004 Interior spending bill passed last week by the U.S. Senate contains measures to exempt federal agencies from conducting environmental analysis of grazing permits under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) until 2008.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have a combined backlog of some 5,000 grazing permits and have received one year exemptions from NEPA each year since 1999 on Interior Appropriations bills.
Conservationists say the practice allows harmful grazing practices to continue, damaging the public's lands and resources, and slowing the agencies' ability to correct grazing problems.
"The Senate trampled on NEPA, eliminating environmental review and public participation in the management of our public lands," said Randy Moorman of the environmental law firm Earthjustice. "The Senate bill will continue to give the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service permission to ignore the environmental impacts of grazing, shutting out the public and leaving many of our public lands at the mercy of cows and sheep."
The amendment for the exemption was offered by Senators Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, and Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. The Bush administration, which says the permit backlog is not its fault, had lobbied for the extension.
The problem started in the mid 1990s as the result of court action that required the agencies to do analysis under the NEPA at the time of grazing permit renewals, according to administration officials. The combination of the completing 10 year land use plans for permits and the NEPA requirement came together to create a huge backlog, officials told a Senate panel in June
Critics say the practice of granting the agencies exemption from NEPA perpetuates the problem and allows the agencies to continue to ignore their responsibilities as stewards of public lands.
Conservationists contend that ranchers do not have an inherent right to use public lands, and say the current system often encourages overgrazing and provides a large subsidy to a relatively small group.
Overgrazing has damaged as much as 80 percent of western streams and riparian areas by polluting vital watersheds with livestock waste and denuding stream bank vegetation.
Only three percent of U.S. livestock producers have federal grazing permits and an October 2002 study by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) found that the minimum cost to U.S. taxpayers of the federal grazing on public lands is $128 million. But this number could be as high as $1 billion, CBD determined, because of indirect costs from resource damage and subsidies.
The Senate also accepted an amendment offered by Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, that seeks to permanently authorize grazing in Idaho in areas that currently do not produce forage on a sustained, long term basis.
"The BLM and the Forest Service want to shirk their responsibilities to the public and not comply with the law," said Gilly Lyons of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign. "As a result of these Congressional exemptions, poor grazing practices could be allowed to continue unchecked, further polluting western streams and damaging critical habitat for wildlife."
The Senate and House Interior spending bills must still be reconciled by a joint conference committee.
$40 Million to Clean Pennsylvania Zinc Superfund SiteWASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - A $40 million settlement to clean up the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund site in Palmerton, Pennsylvania has been agreed between three federal agencies and four commercial entities that conducted zinc smelting and refining at the site.
Air emissions from smelting and refining deposited lead and other contaminants in some parts of Palmerton and adjacent communities and caused the defoliation of Blue Mountain in the vicinity of the plants.
More than 30 million tons of byproducts generated by smelting operations were deposited in a 2.5 mile long, 100 foot high Cinder Bank adjacent to the plants.
The Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of the Interior announced on Friday that they have entered into a consent decree with Viacom International Inc., TCI Pacific Communications, Inc., Horsehead Industries, Inc., and Horsehead Resource Development Company, Inc. (HRDC).
Under the proposed settlement, the four firms will pay approximately $12.85 million into the Superfund account, to reimburse monies spent by the EPA, and will perform cleanup work at the site valued at $27 million.
The four companies have also agreed to reimburse past and future costs incurred by the Department of Interior at the site in the amount of $700,000.
"This settlement demonstrates our continuing commitment to ensure that those responsible for contaminating our environment share in the costs of the cleanup. This is a substantial step toward cleaning up this site for the residents of Palmerton," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The Palmerton site became contaminated with several hazardous substances over more than a century of zinc smelting and refining. The corporate predecessors of Viacom and TCI Pacific operated a primary zinc smelter and related operations at two plants in the Palmerton area from 1898 through approximately 1980.
Horsehead Industries and Horsehead Resource Development Company have operated a zinc recycling operation at one of the two plants since 1981.
The $12.85 million cash payment will reimburse EPA for a significant portion of the costs EPA incurred investigating and cleaning up contamination at the site, including residential areas of Palmerton.
The four companies have also agreed to perform a substantial portion of the cleanup work that remains, including further testing and cleanup of homes and yards in Palmerton and adjacent communities and revegetating areas of Blue Mountain that were defoliated.
"This negotiated cleanup is good news for the public, the parties, and the environment. We can now concentrate on the cleanup, rather than the courtroom," said EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh.
In 1983, EPA listed the Palmerton Zinc Pile on the Superfund list of the nation's most contaminated sites. In the mid-1990s, the EPA completed the priority cleanup of more than 200 residences in and around Palmerton to address potential lead contamination.
In addition, pursuant to prior settlements in 1988 and 1995, respectively, Horsehead Industries has revegetated approximately 1,000 acres on Blue Mountain and implemented pollution reduction technologies designed to control potential water contamination associated with the Cinder Bank.
EPA continues to investigate and develop a cleanup plan for certain other portions of the site, including potentially contaminated surface and ground water. The settlement does not affect those ongoing activities.
Notice of the proposed consent decree will be published in the Federal Register, and there will be a 30 day public comment period. Because Horsehead Industries and HRDC are in bankruptcy, the proposed consent decree is also subject to the approval of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
Court Halts Cape Cod Pheasant HuntingBOSTON, Massachusetts, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - A federal judge has halted the stocking of pheasants and the six week pheasant hunting season slated to begin on the Cape Cod National Seashore on October 18. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris comes in a lawsuit brought by animal rights groups and several Cape Cod residents challenging the sport hunting programs on the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Saris has ordered the National Park Service to conduct an environmental assessment on all of the seashore's sport hunting programs, including the release of thousands of non-native pheasants for sport hunting.
The plaintiffs claim that the release of non-native pheasants threatens the seashore's fragile ecosystem and is contrary to the National Park Service's own policies which prohibit the intentional release of exotic wildlife.
"No sport hunting activities on the seashore stand up to environmental muster, but introducing exotic pheasants for hunters to use as targets simply goes beyond the pale," said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals. "There is nothing remotely sporting about shooting tame birds raised in captivity. The seashore may as well offer hunters the chance to shoot fish in a barrel."
The animal rights groups say the pheasants - native to Asia - are raised on intensive bird farms. The birds are tame, the plaintiffs said, are completely unprepared for survival in the wild, and many are shot by hunters within hours of being released. Those who survive are killed by predators or vehicle collisions, or succumb to starvation.
"The National Park Service will now need to address the legitimate concerns brought forward by the numerous Cape Codders who oppose pheasant stocking on the national seashore," said Jessica Almy, wildlife advocate at the Cape Wildlife Center, a program of The Humane Society of the United States. "As a community, we care about public safety, the environment, and animal welfare - all of which are compromised by this outdated practice."
The plaintiffs add that Cape Cod National Seashore is also home to numerous ecologically important native plant and animal species, including a number of species listed as endangered or threatened in the United States or Massachusetts. Hunting dogs run off established trails, disturb native wildlife, and disrupt fragile plant life.
The plaintiffs in the case include The Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and several Cape Cod residents.
Conservationists to Sue Over Bush Wolf PolicyMONTPELIER, Vermont, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has told the Bush administration that it intends to sue over the decision to relax protection for wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The conservation group says that the final Wolf Reclassification Rule that was issued in April effectively terminates federal wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast, where suitable wolf habitat exists and wolves are apparently beginning to return.
The rule changes the status of wolves from endangered to threatened in the Northern Rockies and the Great Lakes while removing ESA protection for wolves in states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, where no wolf recovery has taken place to date.
NWF said in its 60 day letter that the administration declared victory for gray wolf recovery based solely on the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes wolf populations. This is in direct violation of its ESA obligation to prevent extinction across a "significant portion" of the wolf's range, according to NWF.
"Although the thriving wolf populations in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies are indeed wildlife success stories, they cannot be used as an excuse for abandoning the goal of wolf recovery in the Northeast," said Eric Palola, director of NWF's Northeast Natural Resource Center in Montpelier, Vermont. "Lumping the Northeast into the successful wolf recovery efforts in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies is analogous to citing high literacy rates in Minnesota and Idaho to demonstrate that children in New England can read."
Today, the wolf can be found on just three percent of its historic range in the lower 48 states and millions of acres of former habitat remain potentially available for wolf restoration.
By terminating the federal recovery program in the Northeast, NWF asserts that the administration reduces the likelihood that wolves migrating southward from Canada will be able to establish a viable population in the sparsely populated regions of Maine, despite the suitability of its habitat and availability of a prey base.
"Rather than walk away from pursuing wolf recovery in the Northeast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be educating people about how wolves contribute to a healthy environment for the Northern forests and working to establish agreements with Canada and among the states where habitat exists," says Palola.
In a proposed rule issued in 2000 during the Clinton Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service called for recovering Northeast wolves by noting that "a population of gray wolves in [the Northeast] is significant and will contribute to the overall restoration of the species."
Scientific peer reviewers uniformly supported this proposal, NWF said, but in the final rule, the Bush administration abandoned Northeast wolf recovery without addressing these earlier statements.
"The administration's plan is illegal and contrary to what all of the scientific experts recommend for wolf recovery," said John Kostyack, NWF senior counsel for Wildlife Conservation and lead counsel in the forthcoming lawsuit. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation under the ESA to recover wolves in a significant portion of their historic range, and this includes the forests of the Northeast states."
Joining NWF in their intent to sue are: Maine Wolf Coalition, Skowhegan, Maine; Vermont Natural Resources Council, Montpelier, Vermont; Environmental Advocates of New York, Albany, New York.
Utah Groups Urge EPA Not to Weaken Nonroad Diesel RuleSALT LAKE CITY, Utah, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - A coalition of Utah labor leaders, elected officials, air quality experts and public health and environmental groups say the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed nonroad diesel rule will help clear the skies over the Salt Lake City region - if it is fully supported and implemented.
The nonroad diesel rule would cut sulfur in diesel fuel by at least 99 percent and would further require engine improvements to achieve high performance standards using the new fuel. In addition, the rule would require the use of advanced pollution control technologies on new diesel engines starting in 2011 that would reduce pollutants by at least 90 percent.
"Air quality is crucial to public health and our economic well being," added Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson at a rally last week on the steps of City offices. "Adoption by the EPA of the proposed regulations for reducing emissions from non road diesel engines would be a major step toward improving the climate for business recruitment, allowing for future growth, and enhancing our health now and in the future."
The coalition points to EPA's projected health benefits of the rule - the agency's studies indicate public health costs can be reduced by more than $80 billion over the term of rule implementation, mostly from saving and extending lives.
The rule was proposed by the EPA in April 2003 and received widespread praise from environmentalists, but some fear the proposal could be weakened before it is finalized. The coalition is calling on Utah Governor Mike Leavitt - the nominee for EPA administrator - to pledge support for the proposed rule.
The Utah groups note that the Salt Lake Valley has an unusual vulnerability to diesel pollution from the nearby Kennecott Bingham Mine, which operates a large fleet of engines larger than 1,000 horsepower, and from extensive construction, earthmoving, highway building and other industrial applications.
The Bingham Canyon Mine produces more than 25 percent of all the fine particulate pollution in the valley - more than all other mobile sources combined.
"This rule is way overdue," said Wayne Holland, District 12 staff representative for the United Steelworkers of America. "Heavy diesel engines threaten the health of steelworkers who operate these huge machines at Kennecott, day in, day out."
Holland points to a recent report on occupational health risks from diesel engine exposure that finds stating that pollution inside cabs of heavy diesel equipment was shown to be up to 16 times higher than federal health recommendations.
Enviros Call on North Carolina to Curb Coastal DevelopmentRALEIGH, North Carolina, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - Three environmental groups have called on North Carolina officials to start following long standing recommendations made by a panel of experts that are designed to guide recovery efforts following hurricanes.
The groups say all permits for new development projects proposed within the 100 year floodplain should be placed on hold until the recommendations - made in 1997 by the North Carolina Coastal Disaster Recovery Task Force - are put in place.
"The moratorium is needed to stop new development and should not prevent anyone from repairing properties damaged by Isabel," said Trip Van Noppen, director of the Carolinas Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
"After hurricanes there is typically a frenzy of new development, with more and more people and property put in harm's way," said Van Noppen.
The plea to North Carolina Governor Mike Easley was made by SELC, Environmental Defense and the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
The groups said lawmakers have ignored three key task force recommendations:
"Nature has told us again and again that our coastline is a danger zone," said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
Miller notes that the state is still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Isabel earlier this month, which was only a Category 2 storm, and even so it was devastating.
The hurricane made landfall on North Carolina's southern Outer Banks, just south of Ocracoke Island, and its 80 mph winds ripped up buildings and trees, and downed power lines, leaving millions of people from North Carolina and Virgina without electricity.
Hurricane Isabel opened a 1,700-foot-wide channel across the island that has severed Highway 12, the only road that links the town of 1,550 permanent inhabitants to the rest of the Outer Banks and the mainland.
Governor Easley asked for and was granted a federal disaster declaration to make the state eligible for damage assistance funding from the federal government.
"We can not afford to wait until a Category 4 or 5 storm comes along and kills thousands of people," Miller said.
Philadelphia Implements Stronger Auto Emissions TestingWASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - Pennsylvania state officials have put into operation a December 2002 court order to fully implement stronger auto emissions testing standards in the five county Philadelphia metro area.
The court order came in a suit brought by the environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Philadelphia based Clean Air Council.
Citing federal Clean Air Act requirements, the court gave state officials a deadline of this month to start requiring stronger emission limits for vehicle inspections.
The Philadelphia area has violated ozone standards for decades, placing thousands of residents at risk. Pennsylvania had first pledged to adopt stronger limits by 1998, as part of a plan to meet federal ozone standards.
The approved clean air plan included a schedule for strengthening emissions testing in two phases. State officials had instituted the first phase, but not the second - the court held that this delay violated the state's legally binding promise under the Clean Air Act to apply the stronger limits.
The stronger emission limits are expected to be more effective in identifying cars, sport utility vehicles, and light trucks that are polluting more than they should. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that such enhanced auto testing programs are very effective in reducing ozone-forming emissions from motor vehicles.
"Pollution from cars and trucks is the biggest source of pollution in the Philadelphia area," said Joe Minott, director of the Clean Air Council. "This important program goes a long way to reducing such pollution."
World Resources Institute Joins Chicago Climate ExchangeCHICAGO, Illinois, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - The World Resources Institute (WRI) has joined the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) as a charter member - the first nongovernmental organization to do so.
CCX is a self regulatory exchange that administers the world's first multinational and multisector marketplace for reducing and trading greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are joining the Chicago Climate Exchange for two reasons," explained Jonathan Lash, president of WRI. "We want to strengthen a pioneering effort to create market-based solutions to the problem of climate change, and CCX helps us maintain our own organizational commitment to keep our net carbon dioxide emissions at zero."
The CCX, which will start its market operations on September 30, 2003, represents the first voluntary, legally binding commitment to reduce emissions by a cross-section of North American corporations, municipalities, and other institutions through the establishment of a rules-based market.
It enables members to receive credit for reductions, and to buy and sell credits to determine the most cost effective means of achieving emission reductions. The CCX currently has 22 founding and charter members, including the City of Chicago, American Electric Power, Ford Motor Company and Du Pont.
As an associate member of CCX, WRI will be able to use its standard mitigation tools to meet its commitment to zero net emissions target.
WRI's commitment covers carbon dioxide emissions arising from electricity use, employee business travel, and employee commuting. The last two components are not required under CCX rules, but they will enable the CCX to experiment with how carbon commitments may be expanded.
"We are pleased to welcome the World Resources Institute to the Exchange," said Dr. Richard Sandor, chairman and chief executive officer of CCX. "WRI has a track record of leadership in building institutions needed to intelligently address climate risks. Being the first NGO to voluntarily commit to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through CCX is indicative of WRI's leadership and vision."