AmeriScan: September 29, 2005

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Hawaii Closes Northwestern Islands' State Waters to Commercial Use

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - In a ceremony today, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle will sign rules for the protection of the state waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. State waters extend out three miles from the shoreline.

The archipelago covers over 1,200 nautical miles and encompasses some of the most pristine coral reef and nearshore ecosystems on Earth.

The 640,000 acre refuge is a limited access no-take marine protected area with 100 percent of all Northwestern Hawaiian Islands state waters closed to commercial and recreational fishing. The refuge provides formal recognition of Native Hawaiian rights to traditional and customary practices in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has responded to over 100,000 public comments, as well as input from over 400 of the world’s coral reef scientists with a package of stringent regulations designed to provide ecosystem protection using a precautionary approach weighted towards conservation.

Federal protections for the NWHI are now under review. A sanctuary designation process is underway but appears likely to actually weaken existing protections in federal waters, ignoring years of public testimony urging more stringent measures.

As a result, Congressman Ed Case, whose district includes the uninhabited islands and atolls, has introduced the 2005 Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Refuge Act, designed to apply a stringent form of the state’s refuge rules to all federal waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Federal waters extend from the three mile mark out 200 miles.

Conservationists were delighted with the new protective rules. "Governor Lingle’s signing of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Refuge protections is one of the most visionary acts of environmental protection ever undertaken by a state government," said Environmental Defense Senior Scientist Stephanie Fried. "It marks an historic moment in the protection of natural resources, not only for Hawaii, but for the entire world."

"The state has listened to the people of Hawaii and has surpassed existing and proposed federal protections for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," Fried said. "We urge the federal government to respond to public input and the bold steps taken by Govenor Lingle and provide equally stringent protections for federal waters, to do otherwise would be irresponsible."

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China Beneficiary of U.S. Coastal Emergency Grant

WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has awarded a $442,500 grant to China to partially fund a study on the development of an integrated coastal management and emergency response system project for the Bohai Sea in northeastern China.

Strengthening China's marine environmental protection capacity is the goal of the grant awarded to China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA), said the U.S. agency.

Henry Steingass, USTDA regional director for Asia, signed an agreement to officially confer the grant on behalf of the U.S. government. Chen Yue, deputy director general of international cooperation, signed the agreement on behalf of SOA.

The Chinese agency has selected URS Corporation of Oakland, California to conduct the feasibility study. In addition to the grant, both the URS corporation and SOA will contribute additional resources toward the completion of the study.

The Bohai Sea is an economic and maritime hub for China's heavily developed northeast, as well as an important natural resource.

As the sea borders several major cities and industrial areas, it is vulnerable to pollution and other environmental hazards.

Although China has acted to protect and preserve the resources of the Bohai Sea, there is no single integrated system in place that provides a regional perspective on ecological challenges in the area.

The USTDA funded feasibility study will examine the requirements for constructing and operating integrated coastal management and emergency response systems to provide SOA with a system to monitor pollution using real time data and a mechanism for the early detection of hazards.

This information would allow the State Oceanic Administration to get important facts quickly to emergency response teams.

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Congress Urged to Clean Water Supplies Fouled By Abandoned Mines

WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - A group of more than 200 Pennsylvania conservation organizations today called on the U.S. Congress to extend the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program until the job of cleaning up streams and water supplies polluted by abandoned mines is finished.

Andrew McElwaine, president & CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, presented the Coalition's comments at a hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

"Pennsylvania alone has over 184,000 acres of abandoned mine sites that present public safety and health hazards, the most of any state in the nation," said McElwaine. "Since 1999 more than 55 people have drowned in mining pits and quarries or riding over abandoned mines on ATVs. We have over 2,200 miles of streams polluted by drainage from abandoned mines which cannot sustain aquatic life or serve as water supplies."

State agencies and watershed groups have spent nearly $500 million in state funds since the 1970s to cleanup abandoned mines and recently the Growing Greener II initiative was approved by voters to spend an additional $60 million.

"Of the $950 million in state and federal dollars spent on abandoned mine reclamation in Pennsylvania, nearly half came from state and private sources," said McElwaine. "Pennsylvania is also doing our part by giving the current coal industry incentives to go back and re-mine abandoned areas and promoting other innovative solutions like treating polluted mine water for cooling at power plants to bring more private sector resources into solving this problem."

Federal mine reclamation programs are funded by fees on coal production - 35 cents per ton on surface mined coal and 15 cents per ton on coal from underground mines - which have been temporarily extended three times over the last year.

"Congress needs to provide reliable funding to finish the job they started in 1977 by assuring states they will be a real partner in cleaning up abandoned mines," said McElwaine. "Instead of annual battles and temporary extensions, Congress should make the commitment to reauthorize reclamation funding until at least abandoned mine sites that are unsafe or threaten public health are cleaned up. Our streams and water supplies can't wait."

The group is recommending that Congress commit to reauthorizing federal reclamation funding for at least until all Priority 1 (safety) and 2 (public health) sites are cleaned up - within 20 years - and provide a program to fund Priority 3 (degraded lands).

The group wants Congress to allocate funding to states based on historic coal production levels so that states with the most abandoned mine problems receive the most funding and to fully appropriate the $1.4 billion that is now sitting in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to support state and federal reclamation efforts.

Reclamation fees collected by the AMR Fund should be sent directly to the states under a funding formula without need for an annual appropriation, campaigners say, and they are also asking that Congress fund the Combined Benefit Fund with the interest generated by the AMR Fund so health care benefits continue for retired miners and their families.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council promotes the protection and restoration of the natural and built environments through innovation, collaboration, education and advocacy with the private sector, government, individuals and communities as partners.

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Poll: Majority Already Sees Effects of Global Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - Six out of 10 of American adults (61%) who responded to a new Harris Interactive poll believe that they will feel the effects of global climate change in their lifetime, and of those, almost three-quarters (72%) say they are seeing the effects today.

This translates into about 44% of the U.S. adult population who say they are now feeling the effects of global climate change.

The Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies (ORCAS) commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a nationwide survey of 1,004 American adults by telephone September 23 to 26, 2005.

Founding members of ORCAS include Battelle Memorial Institute, Duke University, Florida State University, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State University, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, The University of Tennessee, The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Vanderbilt University.

As to the quality of the information about global climate change, nearly one third (31%) of those surveyed said they find the quality of information on global climate change to be of excellent or good quality while another third (33%) feels that the quality of information to be of fair quality. The remainder either feel that the quality of information about global climate change is poor or terrible (28%) or simply do not know enough to have an opinion (8%).

Almost two in five adults (38%) feel that the information in hand about global climate change is clear enough for local leaders to act with certainty on that information in their region.

When scientists developed the strategic plan for the Climate Change Science Program, one of the greatest points of contention was, and continues to be, whether it is possible to provide reliable information for state and local decisionmakers at a regional scale based on good science.

ORCAS is holding a workshop October 3-4, 2005 to evaluate the state of the science of regional climate change impact assessment in the United States and its applicability for decision support at a regional and local scale, using the Southeastern U.S. as a case study.

ORCAS Director Dr. Paul Gilman said, “State and local policymakers show growing interest in considering different climate change scenarios in their work relating to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, transportation, health, land use planning, and environmental management.

"Public perceptions regarding climate change and its effects will be a context within which state and local decisionmakers will do their work," Gilman said. "These perceptions will inevitably affect the decisionmakers' desires for scientific information and technical tools to assist in their decisionmaking.”

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New NOAA Index Measures Greenhouse Gas Levels Quickly

BOULDER, Colorado, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - The impact of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere has increased by 20 percent since 1990, according to a new federal government index released on Tuesday.

Researchers at the NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory in Boulder, have developed the index, which provides a simple means of tracking the annual increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The Annual Greenhouse Gas Index , or AGGI, is based on an analysis of the atmospheric levels of all the major and minor, long-lived greenhouse gases.

They include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the replacements for CFCs.

The new index provides an easily understood and scientifically unambiguous point of comparison for tracking annual changes in levels of atmospheric gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect, in which the radiation emitted by Earth's surface is re-radiated by the atmosphere back to the surface.

"This index provides us with a valuable benchmark for tracking the composition of the atmosphere as we seek to better understand the dynamics of Earth's climate," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

NOAA's five-year strategic plan commits the agency to understanding climate variability and change in order to enhance society's ability to plan and respond.

"The AGGI will serve as a gauge of success or failure of future efforts to curb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere both by natural and human-engineered processes," said David Hofmann, NOAA/Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory director.

The new index relates the total radiative forcing since the Industrial Revolution began in 1750 from all the gases sampled in a given year to the corresponding measurements taken in 1990.

The 1990 baseline was chosen because greenhouse gas emissions targeted by the international Kyoto Protocol also are indexed to 1990. NOAA plans to update the index in April of each year.

Radiative forcing is the change in the balance between solar radiation coming into the atmosphere and Earth's radiation going out. Radiative forcing, as measured by the index, is calculated from the atmospheric concentration of each contributing gas and the per-molecule climate forcing of each gas.

For every million air molecules in samples analyzed by NOAA/CMDL, about 375 of them are carbon dioxide, about two are methane and less than one is a nitrous oxide molecule. The CFC's make up less than one molecule in a billion in the atmosphere but play a role in regulating Earth's climate and are a key factor in the depletion of the protective ozone layer.

Most of the increase in radiative forcing measured since 1990 is due to carbon dioxide, which now accounts for about 62 percent of the radiative forcing by all long-lived greenhouse gases.

Hofmann noted that the AGGI value for 2004 was 1.20, representing a 20 percent increase in radiative forcing since 1990. The annual increase in the index from 2003 to 2004 was 1.12 percent.

The record high annual increase is believed to be related to the increased growth rate of CO2 following the 1987-1988 El Niño and the record low annual increase is related to the decreased growth rate of CO2 following the Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991.

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New Jersey Buys Wetlands to Help Control Flooding

WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Wildlife Preserves Inc. are nearing an agreement to acquire Wildlife's properties in the Great Piece Meadows area of the Passaic River Central Basin as a natural flood storage area.

Spread across Fairfield Township, Lincoln Park Borough, and Montville Township, Great Piece Meadows is made up mostly of wetlands, but developers are encroaching.

Pending review by the Army Corps, this preservation project will allow for the acquisition of 472 acres, making it one of the largest open spaces purchases in Morris County.

"Heavy rain and subsequent flooding along the Passaic River each year underscores the importance of reaching an agreement to preserve more wetlands and establish more natural flood storage areas in northern New Jersey," said New Jersey Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican, the state's only member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Over the past 11 years, I have worked closely with the Army Corps to help preserve more than 2,000 acres of wetlands along the Passaic River," he said. "I applaud the Army Corps and Wildlife Preserves for nearing an agreement to purchase the Great Piece Meadows property, protect our wetlands, and help control future flooding in the Passaic River Flood Basin."

Acquiring Great Piece Meadows is also part of a larger and ongoing effort by Frelinghuysen, the Army Corps, Morris County Freeholder Director Jack Schrier and the Freeholder Board, and municipal officials to control severe and repeated flooding, protect wetlands, and preserve natural flood storage areas along the Passaic River.

"This acquisition is an important step in our continuing efforts to address the flooding problems in the Passaic River Basin," said Paul Tumminello, project manager with the New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Alleged Chilean Sea Bass Poacher Indicted

MIAMI, Florida, September 29, 2005 (ENS) - On Tuesday, Antonio Vidal Pego, a Spanish national, and Fadilur S.A., a Uruguayan corporation, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami, Florida with importing and conspiring to sell approximately 53,000 pounds of illegally possessed toothfish, commonly known as Chilean sea bass. Both were also charged with false labeling and obstructing justice.

Vidal faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the charge of obstruction of justice, and up to five years in prison on each of the three remaining charges. He is also subject to a fine of $250,000 or greater on each of the four counts. Fadilur, S.A. faces a maximum criminal fine, on each of the four counts naming the company, of up to $500,000 per charge.

Chilean sea bass, known scientifically as Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish, is neither from Chile nor a sea bass.

It became popular on restaurant menus about 10 years ago, and now the slow-growing, deep water fish suffers from acute over-fishing by poachers in the remote waters near Antarctica, and is on the verge of collapse.

Said Mark Stevens, campaign manager for Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass, "We congratulate NOAA on its vigilance in enforcing laws that protect Chilean Sea Bass. Vidal is a familiar name to those of us fighting pirate fishing and we look forward to his conviction."

Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass is a nationwide consumer education campaign designed to educate the public about the crisis facing Chilean Sea Bass. More than 1,000 chefs have pledged to stop serving Chilean Sea Bass until proper regulations are in place.

"Unfortunately," said Stevens, "53,000 pounds is just a drop in the bucket compared to all the illegal fish that makes its way on to people's plates every day. Chilean sea bass is just the poster fish for all the other ocean fish being hammered by pirate fishers."

"Simple and secure solutions exist, such as web-based documentation which would prevent forgery," said Stevens.

The harvest and trade of Chilean seabass is regulated under the international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, implemented in the United States through the Antarctic Marine Living Resources Act.

The treaty and implementing laws, set forth in detail in the Indictment, require specific documentation to follow legally harvested toothfish from the point of harvest to the point of final import for consumption.

Getting the fishing vessels to stop taking toothfish is a separate challenge. Stevens says the ship named in this indictment, along with many others, is still fishing illegally for Chilean sea bass.

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