AmeriScan: September 20, 2005

* * *

Arctic Refuge Action Day Draws Thousands to Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - Thousands of Americans from across the country gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol this morning to voice their opposition to plans to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Many had boarded buses late last night or in the pre-dawn hours to attend from as far away as Michigan and Wisconsin.

"Capitol Hill was a sea of blue Save the Arctic Refuge shirts today," said Cindy Shogan of the Alaska Wilderness League. "The sheer numbers of citizens and the level of commitment today were unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this campaign to protect the refuge. It was an inspirational day."

Following a rally on the Capitol’s west lawn with political, religious and Native American leaders, groups of Arctic Refuge Action Day participants visited House and Senate office buildings to persuade their congressional representatives not to vote yes on the upcoming budget resolution that includes language on Arctic Refuge drilling.

Both the House and Senate are formulating budget reconciliation bills that would open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. Although the energy bill passed by Congress in July does not include Arctic Refuge drilling, proponents of the plan are expected to use budget reconciliation legislation to ram the controversial proposal through Congress.

"Thousands of Americans came knocking on Congress’ front door today to demand that they keep America’s commitment to preserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. "This should serve as a cautionary note to those who would abuse the federal budget process – or use other backdoor maneuvers - to turn the oil industry loose in the Arctic Refuge."

Some of today’s speakers included environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, and Senate Democrats John Kerry of Massachusetts, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Also taking the podium were Representatives Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Rush Holt of New Jersey, Dennis Kucinich and Tim Ryan of Ohio, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, all Democrats, and former Congressman Tom Evans, a Delaware Republican.

Also addressing the crowd were the Canadian MP Larry Bagnell, Episcopal Bishop for Alaska Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, Rabbi David Saperstein, Louisiana conservationist Jerome Ringo, and Native American leaders Sarah James and Chief Joe Linklater.

Arctic Refuge Action Day was the culmination of a summer-long, nationwide grassroots effort to rally support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Although some in Congress are pushing for drilling the Refuge as a response to rising gas prices, a new report from the Department of Energy finds that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would not lower gas prices at all in the short term, and would only net consumers a penny and a half per gallon at peak production in 2025. See the report here.

The Arctic Refuge Action coalition is: the Alaska Coalition; Alaska Wilderness League; Defenders of Wildlife; Earthjustice; Episcopal Church, USA; Gwich’in Steering Committee; League of Conservation Voters; National Audubon Society; Natural Resources Defense Council; National Wildlife Federation; National Wildlife Refuge Association; Northern Alaskan Environmental Center; R.E.P. America; Trustees for Alaska; Sierra Club; U.S. PIRG; Washington Association of Churches; The Wilderness Society; and World Wildlife Fund.

* * *

Funds Forthcoming to Restore Wetlands Damaged by Katrina

WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bill extending the authorization for interest funds collected from interest-bearing accounts under the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to be used for wetland conservation. This law provides federal aid to the states for the management and restoration of wildlife.

The intent is to allow the funding to be used for restoration of wetlands damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and supported in the House by Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo of California.

"This legislation will help fund and secure the restoration of miles of wetlands devastated by Hurricane Katrina," said Pombo. "Already the private - public conservation agreements and interest this program generated have conserved or restored millions of acres of wetlands. I am pleased the House unanimously voted to approve this legislation."

Since 1989 when the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) was signed into law, approximately $235 million in interest-earned money has been used to finance private-public projects to acquire, conserve, manage and restore critical wetlands. NAWCA converts the Pittman-Robertson account into a trust fund, with the interest available without appropriation through the year 2006 for wetlands programs.

These funds amount to approximately one-third of the total federal funds spent on wetlands activities. An additional $634 million was provided from other non-federal sources.

The legislation is supported by the Bush administration and conservation groups including Ducks Unlimited and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Separately, Ducks Unlimited has pledged $15 million to help restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"Ducks Unlimited will work with partner conservation organizations, federal conservation agencies and the state of Louisiana to protect and restore 52,000 acres along the Louisiana coast by 2008," said Ducks Unlimited Executive Vice President Don Young.

"What’s happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a national tragedy," said Ducks Unlimited President Dr. Jim Hulbert. "The human loss and suffering is staggering. To get people’s lives back to normal as quickly as possible requires not only that services and homes be restored and rebuilt but also that the critical coastal wetlands that help protect those homes and people be restored too. Wetlands restoration is what Ducks Unlimited does best."

Young says the conservation organization’s $15 million pledge is the center point of Ducks Unlimited’s new Louisiana Coastal Restoration Initiative. "We’ll leverage that money with other sources to increase funds as much as possible to work with our partners and the state of Louisiana to restore America’s Wetland," Young said.

* * *

Senate Votes Against Funding Horse Slaughter for Meat

WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate today voted 68 to 29 in favor of a measure that prohibits the use of any federal taxpayer funds to slaughter horses for food exports.

If passed by the full Congress, the measure would keep horses from being killed for meat in three slaughterhouses in the United States - two in Texas and one in Illinois. The amendment also stops horses from being shipped to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico so that their meat can be exported to foreign countries.

The amendment to an annual spending bill was introduced by Senators John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, and Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat. The House approved a companion measure on June 8, which also stops American horses from being exported for slaughter abroad. Next, it will be presented before a conference committee, and we anticipate that Congress will approve the initiative.

"The time has come to put an end to the practice of slaughtering horses in America," Senator Ensign said. "Horses have an important role in the history of our country, particularly in the West, and they deserve protection. As a senator and a veterinarian I am committed to doing what I can for these magnificent animals."

Senator Byrd described the cruelty of transportation of horses for slaughter, saying, "Horses can be shipped for more than twenty-four hours without food, water, or rest. They can be transported with broken legs, missing eyes, or while heavily pregnant. The horses are kept in cramped conditions, in trucks with ceilings so low that they prevent the horses from holding their heads in a normal, upright position. The cramped nature of their transport often results in trampling, with some horses arriving at the slaughterhouses seriously injured or dead."

Improper use of stunning equipment at the slaughter plant "can result in the animal having to endure repeated blows" to the head, leaving the horse conscious for the slaughter process, Byrd said.

"The Society for Animal Protective Legislation and the Doris Day Animal League have worked doggedly for years to achieve an end to horse slaughter," said Chris Heyde, policy analyst for the Society. "We are delighted with the overwhelming support of the Senate and look forward to achieving our ultimate goal of a permanent ban on this archaic practice."

Because the amendment is attached to an annual budget bill, it will only halt horse slaughter for one fiscal year, beginning in October. But the votes in the Senate and the House demonstrates strong public and congressional support for a permanent ban that might be achieved through passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

This measure is sponsored in the House by Republican Representatives John Sweeney, of New York, Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, as well as John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat.

It will soon be introduced in the Senate by Senators John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, and Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat. The Act would prohibit the transport, purchase, selling or donation of both wild and domestic horses to be slaughtered for human consumption here and abroad.

"We always believed that if we could just bring this issue before the full Congress, we would prevail. We are one step closer to making horse slaughter a thing of the past in this country," said Liz Ross, director of special projects for the Doris Day Animal League.

In another move welcomed by animal welfare groups, the Senate approved two animal welfare amendments introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat. One amendment would ensure that "downed livestock" - animals too sick or injured to walk - are not allowed into the human food supply.

The second amendment would prohibit tax dollars from being used for research facilities that purchase animals from "Class B dealers" who traffic in family pets for research.

* * *

Indian Point Spent Nuclear Fuel Pool Leaking

WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a special inspection into leakage from the spent fuel pool area at the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant. The leak, which was discovered recently at the Buchanan, New York, facility, "is minimal and does not pose any immediate health or safety concern for members of the public or plant workers," the agency said.

An NRC health physics specialist, who arrived on site last week, and the NRC’s two Resident Inspectors at Indian Point 2 have been following the actions of Entergy, which owns and operates the plant. The special inspection, chartered by the NRC, will be conducted by the health physics specialist and additional agency inspectors, as appropriate.

Spent fuel pools are deep storage structures designed to hold the fuel assemblies that have been used in the reactor. Containing hundreds of thousands of gallons of cooling water, these pools have stainless-steel liners surrounded by steel-reinforced concrete walls measuring several feet in thickness.

During recent excavation work being done in conjunction with a dry cask spent fuel storage project, workers identified several hairline cracks on concrete walls for the Indian Point 2 pool. Slight seepage has been collected. It is not yet clear whether the seepage is from a current or prior leak.

The leakage is estimated to be very small. For example, recent efforts by plant staff to collect leakage have yielded less than a pint per day. Samples of soil in the vicinity of where the leakage was found indicate that radioactive contamination is limited to an area in close proximity to the cracking.

The NRC team will, among other things, review the company’s evaluation of the pool structure, evaluate remedial actions on the part of the company, and assess any potential environmental impact of the leakage. The team will issue a report documenting its findings within 45 days of the completion of the inspection.

* * *

Greening of School Buildings Pledged at Clinton Global Initiative

NEW YORK, New York, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - To reduce the energy consumption, environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions of school buildings, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Turner Corporation and Haverford College, along with former President Bill Clinton, announced a series of commitments this past weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference.

During the Climate Change track at the conference, Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced its sponsorship, with the Turner Corporation, a construction firm, of a series of green building conferences promoting sustainable design and construction in education within the next academic year.

"The green building construction market has grown from zero in 2000 to $33 billion at the end of 2004," said Fedrizzi.

"In schools, green design has been credited with reducing operating costs, cutting absenteeism and promoting knowledge retention. With numbers like these, we can't ignore the importance of green buildings in our educational system," he said.

The Turner Corporation, represented by chairman and CEO Thomas Leppert, announced they will host and fund the first green building conference, Greening the Schools to be held on October 24 in Washington, DC. Turner Corporation has completed or has under contract 130 green projects valued at $9 billion.

Haverford College, represented by President Tom Tritton, committed to greening their existing buildings on campus and instituted a campus wide challenge to reduce energy use.

In October 2005, Haverford will open a new 100,000 square foot athletic facility that will be the largest athletic building in the United States to achieve certification under the Council's LEED Green Building Rating System.

In the past two years, the Haverford student body has organized and implemented campaigns to reduce campus electricity consumption by 30,000 KWh per month, saving almost 20 metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per month.

USGBC's mission is to transform the building industry to sustainable design, reducing its impact on the natural environment and human health. The USGBC created the LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Green Building Rating System in 2000 for new commercial buildings. Today LEED is in use in more than 290 million square feet of buildings.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library is among nearly 300 other projects that have been certified under the LEED Rating System.

The Clinton Global Initiative Conference is a nonpartisan conference that brought together a diverse and select group of current and former heads of state, business leaders, academicians, and key nongovernmental representatives. The group strategized on the best methods to reduce poverty; implement new business strategies and technologies to combat climate change; and strengthen governance.

* * *

Green Groups Oppose Bush Pick for Fish and Wildlife Service

WASHINGTON, DC, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - The Bush administration nominee to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dale Hall, does not meet with the approval of some conservation groups. The Senate is expected to consider Hall’s nomination later this month.

Last week a coalition of three groups released a letter to Congress charging that Hall, currently the Service's Southwest regional director, gave illegal orders to his staff not to make scientific findings protective of wildlife, rewrote scientific conclusions for political reasons and issued a questionable policy forbidding biologists from considering genetic information about species’ recovery.

The coalition of groups opposing Hall’s nomination includes Forest Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"We are not questioning his education or training, we are questioning his integrity," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, a national organization representing government employees at natural resources agencies.

On July 18, President Bush nominated Hall to take over the vacant directorship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act for land and freshwater species.

"Dale Hall’s actions while regional director pushed southwestern wildlife and plants closer to extinction," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. "He disregards science, bullies scientists, and is at the command of those industries imperiling the nation’s wildlife."

"Hall’s confirmation as national FWS director would be a dangerous mistake that wildlife on the brink simply cannot afford," Rosmarino said.

In their letter, the groups detail how, during his tenure as USFWS southwest regional director, Hall "instructed subordinates that the agency would not issue findings of 'jeopardy' for any species currently protected by the Endangered Species Act, meaning that the agency would object to no development project on the grounds that the project would harm threatened or endangered species."

Hall ordered biologists in the Southwest to ignore genetics when making decisions about endangered or threatened species’ recovery, the groups allege.

Hall has yet during his tenure to take a single action that protects wildlife that was not the product of a court order, the groups note.

In a survey earlier this year of agency scientists working under Hall two-thirds of scientists working with endangered species said they were "directed, for non-scientific reasons to refrain from making jeopardy or other findings that are protective of species."

More than one in four reported being "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a USFWS scientific document," the highest percentage compared with the other regional divisions of the Service.

Four out of five biologists working under Hall did not "trust USFWS decision makers to make decisions that will protect species and habitats."

"Unfortunately, Hall fits very well into the administration's strategy of attacking science and refusing to implement protections for America's endangered plants and animals," said Brian Nowicki, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "His appointment would be a disaster for the biologists of the Fish and Wildlife Service and for the imperiled species they are supposed to be protecting."

* * *

Michigan Governor Wins Energy Efficiency Award

CHICAGO, Illinois, September 20, 2005 (ENS) - The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance has honored Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, for implementing innovative energy and sustainability policies that saved money for the state and for Michigan householders.

The Alliance announced its 2005 winners of the Inspiring Efficiency Awards on Monday. The awards recognize innovators for their work in developing and applying energy efficient technologies, programs and policy initiatives.

The Alliance calculates that Governor Granholm's policies have reduced the state of Michigan's energy consumption by $400,000 in the first year, mandated usage of fuel efficient vehicles and alternative fuels in state fleets, and improved Michigan's Uniform Energy Code which will result in estimated individual homeowner savings of $374 per year in reduced energy bills.

"This year's award winners clearly show that substantial progress is being made to increase energy efficiency and promote wise consumption practices," said Alecia Ward, Executive Director of the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

"We have an excellent cross section of winners in government, utilities, business and the non-profit arena who demonstrate how measurable results can be achieved."

The Alliance also offers an Education Award, which went to the University of Illinois Chicago Energy Resources Center for their collaborative work in the Midwest Combined Heat and Power Initiative to promote and foster combined heat and power technologies and applications throughout the Midwest.

The Alliance's 2005 Impact Award goes to MidAmerican Design Assistance for Commercial Buildings, which promotes the optimal integration of energy efficient design into new buildings and renovation projects. To date, the program has enrolled projects totaling 18 million square feet, with a $3.2 million annual savings in energy costs.

The Alliance is giving this year's Innovation Award to the Center for Technology Transfer, a non-profit organization created by the Focus on Energy program to increase the number of Wisconsin companies that market emerging technologies to improve the energy efficiency of the state's business groups.

The Alliance handed this year's Marketing Award to Interstate Power and Light which developed and implemented an agricultural Demand Side Management program to help agricultural customers use energy more efficiently and improve their productivity and profitability.

The 2005 award winners will receive their awards at the Alliance's Energy Solutions Conference in Chicago on October 3. Find out more at: www.mwalliance.org

* * *