AmeriScan: September 16, 2005

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Congressman Pombo Seeks to Modify Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - Congressman Richard Pombo, a California Republican who chairs the House Resources Committee, has decided to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which Pombo believes is ineffective and too costly to landowners.

On Thursday, a Pombo staff summary of the Congressman's legislation to reduce the power of the Endangered Species Act was leaked.

The conservation group Center for Biological Diversity says the leaked version of the Pombo measure, as summarized by his staff, would eliminate independent federal oversight of actions by federal agencies that may harm endangered species.

The Pombo legislation would eliminate the designation of mapped-out critical habitat areas for all threatened and endangered species.

The Pombo bill would allow destructive projects to "proceed by default," the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) says. Agencies would be required only to provide the "nature, the specific location, and the anticipated schedule and duration" of the proposed action, not enough information to support a scientific review.

The Pombo bill codifies the Bush administration's No Surprises policy by prohibiting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries from updating failing Habitat Conservation Plans unless the private land owner holding the permit agrees. New scientific information and the results of biological monitoring would no longer require updating of plans.

As currently written, the Endangered Species Act provides full protection to each new species added to the endangered species list. The Pombo bill allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to sign an agreement with individual states before a species is listed, which prohibits new protections for those species.

The conservation group warns that the Pombo bill "slows species protections." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a nationwide policy protecting threatened species from unregulated "taking" such as killing, harming or harassing. Pombo’s bill prohibits this national approach, viewed by the CBD as "efficient." Instead the Service would be required to issue separate regulations for each threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act currently allows the listing of species, subspecies, and "distinct population segments." Pombo’s bill makes it harder to list populations by requiring that it be done "sparingly."

Pombo has long stood for the rights of property owners, and this bill requires the federal government to pay private landowners for the loss of commercial value when an action such as timber harvest or development, is prohibited by the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

Criticized for this provision in the previous leaked version of the bill, Pombo has hidden the same provision under the code word "conservation aid."

The newest version of the Pombo bill specifies that "The amount of the Aid is to be no less than the fair market value of the forgone use of the affected portion of the property."

That is, the federal government would have to pay for profits developers hoped to gain by developing that portion of the land, including any profits lost due to mitigations asked of the landowner, such as retaining riparian corridors or setting aside mitigation habitat.

The Center for Biological Diversity says, "This not only would have a tremendous impact on the federal budget, it would set a precedent to require the government to pay industry for any profits lost to environmental protections, and it would reward developers who plan the maximum and most potentially profitable projects for the most ecologically important habitat. In short, it begs developers to plan projects that allow them to extort payment from the government."

The Pombo bill allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter into recovery agreements with private land owners. The summary does not specify what the terms of the agreements are.

The Pombo bill eliminates the Endangered Species Committee, a cabinet level panel with the authority to approve project which would otherwise be prohibited by the Endangered Species Act. While intended to provide an mechanism to overrule species conservation, the God Squad, as it is also known, has been a disappointment to development interests because it can only be invoked by a federal agency or state governor, and it has rarely been invoked and is always very controversial. When it has been invoked, the committee has often sided with the species rather than developers.

In May, Congressman Pombo submitted a report to the Committee on Resources that outlines why he believes the Endangered Species Act (ESA) needs revision.

"While some species have clearly benefited from the ESA, three decades after the Act’s passage few species have been delisted or downlisted because of effective ESA conservation efforts," the Pombo report states. "With well under half of 1,264 listed species considered stable or improving and the vast majority of listed species falling in the 0 to 25 percent recovery achieved bracket, it seems unlikely that the slow pace of delisting and downlisting will change substantially in the near future."

It is unclear how the Congressman's new legislation will increase the rate of species recovery. View the May Pombo report here.

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Federal Judge Dismisses States' Greenhouse Gas Lawsuit

NEW YORK, New York, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - A federal judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by eight states, New York City, and environmental groups aimed at forcing major utility companies to reduce their emissions of greenhouses gases.

The suit named five companies that own 174 fossil fuel-burning power plants, claiming that they contribute to the problem of global warming.

But U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan said that in asking the court to set CO2 reductions, the states want the judiciary to craft wide-ranging environmental policies that would affect the economy, national security and foreign policy.

She said such "political" decisions should properly be considered by the President and Congress.

"Cases presenting political questions are consigned to the political branches that are accountable to the people, not to the judiciary," Judge Preska wrote.

The defendant electric companies were American Electric Power Co., Southern Co., Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy Inc. and Cinergy Corp.

Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis, Jr. approves of the ruling. "The suit would have required Judge Preska to craft an elaborate set of legislative responses, including determination of proper levels of greenhouse gas emissions, necessary reduction levels for each company and appropriate impacts on U.S. national security and international treaty negotiations, among others," he said.

An appeal was promised by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, New York state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who were joined in the lawsuit by their counterparts from Iowa, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, along with New York City's corporation counsel.

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Large Lowland Rainforest Transferred to Native Hawaiians

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - One of the largest conservation purchases ever facilitated by the state of Hawaii was announced Tuesday. The agreement will protect 25,856 acres - more than 40 square miles - of Native Hawaiian rainforest known as Wao Kele o Puna that is located near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Governor Linda Lingle, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and the Trust For Public Land (TPL) made the announcement at the state capitol, putting an end to more than 20 years of controversy, litigation, and civil protest over the land.

Governor Lingle, a Republican, took the announcement event as an opportunity to promote the Bush administration policy of cooperative conservation. "Cooperative conservation means that everyone works together to preserve our outstanding quality of life in Hawaii," said Governor Lingle. "We are dedicated to ensuring that lands like Wao Kele o Puna where our culture and environment thrive are protected now and in the future."

The land is in an area considered valuable for geothermal power production and two exploratory wells were drilled there, but then abandoned.

The forest is important to Native Hawaiians, who for centuries have consistently used the property for traditional hunting, gathering, and religious purposes.

In addition, the rainforest provides essential wildlife habitat for more than 200 native Hawaiian plant and animal species, including several that are listed as threatened or endangered.

Wao Kele o Puna is also critical to protecting drinking water quality in Hawaii County, covering over 20 percent of the Pahoa aquifer, the single largest drinking water source on the island.

"This rare ecosystem comprises the last intact lowland native forests of its kind and has been the focus of controversy for over 20 years, as numerous Native Hawaiians and environmental groups opposed geothermal mining and the blocking of the long-term community access to the land," said Peter Young, DLNR Chairperson.

The agreement, which is scheduled to be finalized next year, provides that the current owner, the Campbell Estate will sell the property for more than $3.4 million to the Trust for Public Land, which will then transfer it to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The U.S. Congress, due to the leadership of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, approved $3.4 million in August from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy program toward the purchase of the property.

Wao Kele o Puna will be the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’s first cultural land purchase, helping to fulfill many long-time goals of the organization and the Native Hawaiian people.

Haunani Apoliona, chair of the OHA Board of Trustees, said, "Our ability to protect such a rich and symbolic resource in partnership with TPL and DLNR means that future generations in Hawai˙i will benefit from our collective vision and foresight in protecting traditional lands and resources."

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San Francisco Receives Funding to Cut Diesel Ship Emissions

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - During a ceremony Thursday at San Francisco's Pier 32, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the Port of San Francisco with a $100,000 grant to cut diesel emissions from cruise ships that dock at the port.

With the cruise ship Regal Princess in the background, Wayne Nastri, administrator of the U.S. EPA's Pacific Southwest Region, presented the grant to Michael Hardeman, San Francisco Port Commission vice president, to fund the Cruise Liner Emissions Reduction Incentives Project.

The funding is part of more than $1.4 million in new grants and more than $5.8 million in matching funds for the West Coast Collaborative, which is part of the National Clean Diesel Campaign.

The West Coast Collaborative is a partnership between leaders of federal, state, and local government; the private sector; and environmental groups in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Alaska, Canada and Mexico committed to reducing diesel emissions along the West Coast.

In-kind services and fees totaling $141,000 are being provided by collaborative partners including cruise line companies, the Port of San Francisco, San Francisco Cruise Terminal, LLC and the Bluewater Network.

"People will breathe cleaner air when cruise ships are in port whenever the cleaner fuels are burned," said Teri Shore, Clean Vessels Campaign director for Bluewater Network. "This project will show that ship smokestack pollution can be cut quickly and cost-effectively without delay."

"This Cruise Liner Emissions Reduction Incentives Project will enable the Port of San Francisco to provide monetary incentives for cruise ships to burn cleaner, lower-sulfur fuels while docked in San Francisco," Nastri said. "As one of 16 projects that the West Coast Collaborative is funding this year, this project will result in real, measurable air quality benefits for the Bay Area."

Each day in the San Francisco Bay Area, oceangoing vessels emit approximately 7.6 tons of sulfur dioxide and 1.2 tons of particulate matter into the air. The project will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the port by an estimated 35 tons a year, as well reduce particulate matter emissions by more than a half ton a year in the Bay Area. In addition, the project will help stimulate the market for lower sulfur fuels in San Francisco.

"San Francisco is proud to be one of the first cities in the country to participate in an important incentive for cruise ships to burn cleaner, lower-sulfur fuels while in our port. We applaud the West Coast Collaborative for establishing this more environmentally friendly program," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Ship engines emit sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain, causes natural habitat destruction and polluted runoff water, and reduces visibility.

A number of epidemiological studies have shown the association between sulfur dioxide and rates of death and illness, including asthma attacks.

"Princess Cruises is pleased to participate with the city, the port, the U.S. EPA and the state of California in this collaborative approach to reduce the impact of marine emissions in San Francisco," said Dean Brown, executive vice president of fleet operations at Princess Cruises.

Particulate matter is microscopic soot emitted by diesel engines, which has been shown to increase the risk of premature death, increase the number of hospital admissions for heart and lung disease and cause asthma.

The California Air Resources Board has declared diesel particulate matter to be a toxic air contaminant and considers it to be one of the most significant components of cancer risk in the state. Premature deaths linked to particulate matter are now at levels comparable to deaths from traffic accidents and second-hand smoke in California.

Jack Broadbent, the executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said while the city's air quality has improved over the past 15 years, "Exposure to diesel engine emissions remains a critical problem."

Broadbent said, "We look forward to working jointly to expand this effort beyond 2006 to incorporate the use of shore based electrical power by the cruise ships."

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Western States Could Generate Eight Gigawatts Solar Power by 2015

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - With a longer-term federal investment tax credit and state-based incentives, the western United States could install as much as eight gigawatts of solar electric generating capacity by 2015, according to a new report produced for the Western Governors’ Association (WGA).

"The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) congratulates the WGA Solar Task Force on achieving a consensus set of recommendations to achieve 8 GW of solar power by 2015," said SEIA president Rhone Resch. "We applaud the consensus finding of the companies, utility executives, policymakers and advocates represented on the task force.

"A longer-term extension of the 30 percent federal investment tax credit would stimulate new US manufacturing jobs and investment, and enable the Western states to harness their abundant solar energy resources."

According to the report, the development of 8 GW of solar electricity – enough to power 4 million homes – would generate 32,500 new high paying jobs in manufacturing, construction and installation.

Deployment on this scale would also bring down solar costs to a point competitive with power produced from fossil fuels, according to the report. The task force envisioned half of deployment coming from central concentrating solar power (CSP) plants and half coming from distributed photovoltaic (PV) generation.

"At a time when natural gas prices are skyrocketing and consumers are feeling the pinch from high energy bills, the WGA task force has provided a clean and cost-effective path forward: solar energy," said Resch.

The report can be read online at: http://www.westgov.org/wga/initiatives/cdeac/solar.htm. It will have a 30-day public comment period. The Western Governors’ Association is scheduled to adopt the document in June 2006.

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Delaware Earns $1.4 Million EPA Grant to Control Storm Water

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - A $1.4 million grant from the The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be used to help control pollution from storm water runoff throughout the state of Delaware.

The grant, which goes to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's nonpoint source program, will be combined with almost $1 million in state and local funds to support storm water projects.

"EPA is pleased to work with Delaware as a partner in supporting innovative approaches to cleaning up waterways that have been impaired by storm water runoff from agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial areas," said Donald Welsh, regional administrator for EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region from his office in Philadelphia.

Storm water pollution - sometimes called nonpoint source pollution - is caused by rainfall or melting snow moving over or through the ground and carrying natural or human-made pollutants into lakes, streams, rivers, oceans and other water bodies.

With the newly granted funding, state personnel will work with shoreline property owners to develop erosion-control projects that will help stabilize and protect the Delaware shoreline.

A tree planting program by Delaware’s Department of Agriculture Forest Service will be implemented to develop riparian buffers in rural and urban environments throughout the state.

Farmers will be assisted to develop nutrient management plans and applications for dairy manure storage systems, poultry manure storage systems, poultry composters, nutrient management plans, and cover crops to prevent polluted runoff.

Manufactured ponds, filtration systems and piping will be instaffed to better control storm water runoff throughout the Inland Bays Watershed in Sussex County.

Finally, the grant funding will be used to assess and restore a subwatershed in the Hockessin Village area of New Castle County at the headwaters of Mill Creek. This project would rely on the use of best management practices and mitigation.

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Army Corps Allows Development of Isolated Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2005 (ENS) - The loss of U.S. wetlands that shelter migratory birds and endangered species may start climbing again, following decisions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open up from 11,000 to 15,000 acres of wetlands in 15 states since 2004.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) produced an analysis Thursday that shows a 2001 Supreme Court decision narrowing Clean Water Act protections by excluding "isolated" wetlands that are not attached to navigable waters is the basis for opening wetlands to development.

Nearly five years ago, the Rehnquist-led Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Clean Water Act did not protect so-called "isolated" wetlands inhabited by migratory birds.

EIP Director Eric Schaeffer said, "By a narrow majority, the Supreme Court voted to shrink the Clean Water Act and opened thousands of acres of wetlands to commercial development. Disappearing wetlands increase the risk of flooding, threaten the survival of migrating birds and endangered species, and diminish the environment for outdoor lovers and sportsmen."

"Developers are going to keep attacking the Clean Water Act," said Schaeffer, "and the public should understand that the new Supreme Court has the power to determine whether our wetlands live or die."

EIP found that a wide range of commercial interests will benefit from recent determinations by the Corps wetlands-related decisions, including a Wal-Mart shopping center in Texas, a titanium sand mine in Georgia, a peat bog mine in Florida, and, in several states, residential development and golf courses.

The fact that the Corps has determined a wetland is exempt from the Clean Water Act does not necessarily mean that all of the acreage in question will be destroyed. Developers may choose to preserve some for aesthetic reasons, and in a few instances, state or local regulation could help to fill the void left by the Corps, Schaeffer explained. "But in the vast majority of cases, once the Corps decides that the Clean Water Act no longer applies, the wetland at issue are completely vulnerable to being carved up by commercial interests."

The 15 states with the most wetlands exempted by the Corps’ aggressive implementation of that decision since 2004 are: Nebraska (2,970-3,139 acres); North Dakota (2,134-2,474 acres); Florida (1,699-1,884 acres); Illinois (643-1,332 acres); Texas (642-887 acres); Georgia (539-1,104 acres); South Dakota (479-704 acres); Colorado (469-872 acres); Wisconsin (434-641 acres); Indiana (407-645 acres); Ohio (259-325 acres); California (215-344 acres); Minnesota (169-356 acres); Iowa (150-274 acres); and New York (140-205 acres).

The EIP report found an apparent bias against wetlands preservation on the part of the Corps, which was also found to underestimate wetlands destruction, and to discount the input of sport fishermen.

The Corps was found to write off of wetlands that provide habitat for endangered species. "Endangered species were present, or thought to be present, in about 15 percent of the cases in which the Corps determined that wetlands were no longer covered by the Clean Water Act. In many other cases, the Corps simply did not know. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about a third of endangered species live their entire lives within wetlands.

The United States has lost more than half its native wetlands since European settlement began.

Wetland losses averaged 300,000 a year in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but slowed to about 60,000 acres a year in the late 1990s, thanks to a combination of Clean Water Act regulation and voluntary incentives for conservation.

While the Supreme Court’s opinion was limited to "isolated" wetlands, the Corps has gone further in many cases by dismissing wetlands without considering other benefits. Schaeffer said, "As bad as the Supreme Court decision was, the Army Corps has made it worse by going further than the opinion required. President [George W.] Bush has pledged to support 'no net loss of wetlands.' But the Corps’ decisions to remove wetlands from the Clean Water Act in so many cases speak louder than words."

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