AmeriScan: September 1, 2006

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U.S. Grants for International Conservation Halved

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will award more than $3.5 million in international conservation grants to 54 countries to help conserve imperiled wildlife throughout the world, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced Thursday. The amount is half the $7 million that was awarded under this program in 2005.

Matching funds and in-kind contributions from nearly 100 partners, including American and international not-for-profit organizations and foreign governments, will raise the total to nearly $9 million.

Kempthorne said, "These grants, coupled with the contributions of our partners, will make a huge difference in conserving habitat and reducing the threats of species around the globe."

Grants of nearly $2 million will be made under the Great Ape Conservation Fund, with matching funds of more than $2.3 from 20 partners, that will promote the conservation of chimpanzees and gorillas in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Rwanda, and gibbons in Vietnam and Bangladesh, and orangutans in Sumatra and Indonesia.

Grant support for Cameroon, the Congo, Gabon and Rwanda will help improve law enforcement designed to protect gorillas, aid in research, and promote a system to reintroduce gorillas to their natural habitat in the Congo and Rwanda.

Gorillas remain severely endangered throughout all of their range and have suffered from intense poaching, a loss of habitat and catastrophic disease outbreaks.

"People and wildlife compete for the same living space," said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall. "The challenge for us is to identify ways to accommodate the needs of people as well as the needs of wildlife."

Under the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, the Service is awarding grants to promote a program in Malaysia to reduce domestic trade in tiger parts. The Bengal tiger of Bangladesh will get help, along with the Indian rhinoceros in Nepal, where poachers are a continuing threat.

Service grants under the Elephant Conservation Funds will support efforts to promote elephant conservation ranging from the establishment of anti-poaching programs to educational initiatives.

Projects in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Belize, Nicaragua and Chile will help conservation work to protect the jaguar and puma in Belize, the tapir in Brazil and the iguana on Andros Island in the Caribbean.

A grant to Russia will provide assistance to 32 nature reserves and parks, including help in improving law enforcement and working conditions for employees. Species that will benefit include the critically endangered saiga antelope, and the Far Eastern leopard, along with the Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, cranes, storks and some rare plants.

The grant programs are authorized under treaties and laws that include the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Multinational Species Conservation Funds, and the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere.

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Scientists Pinpoint Gap Locations With Park Potential

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - There are thousands of locations worldwide that are inhabited by animals vulnerable to extinction yet are unprotected by conservation regulations.

These places, called "gap" locations by two researchers with the Human Dimensions Program of the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International in Washington, DC, are ripe for conservation efforts, according to a new study published today.

Authors L.J. Gorenflo and Katrina Brandon used geographic information system, GIS, technology to study some 4,000 "gap" locations worldwide identified in previous research.

Gorenflo and Brandon concluded that many of the gaps, which tend to occur in the tropics, on islands, and in mountains, are locations where conservation measures appear feasible. These locations include large tracts of conservation-compatible habitat and have a sparse human population, yet are not attractive for agriculture.

Human presence seems to be a hindrance to conservation in gap locations situated near coasts, including islands, but most of the gap locations did not feature high levels of threat from humans.

In other regions, including parts of the Andes, Mexico, Brazil, and Africa, some gap locations have agricultural potential, which suggests that conservation measures there might be opposed by farming interests.

"The greatest opportunities for expanding the current global network of protected areas to fill priority gaps in biodiversity conservation tend to occur in the tropics on larger landmasses, in noncoastal locations that often occur in mountains. In these settings, creating and managing protected areas designed primarily for biodiversity conservation may be an appropriate strategy. Addressing the gaps on smaller islands and in coastal locations, by contrast, is likely to pose greater challenges," Gorenflo and Brandon write.

Still, although other factors besides those analyzed by Gorenflo and Brandon influence the likelihood that protected areas are established, the findings suggest that efforts to establish new protected areas may be worthwhile in many parts of the world.

The study is published in the September issue of "BioScience," the monthly journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

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California Switches to New Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel

SACRAMENTO, California, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - California's 1.2 million diesel engines will all emit less pollution after today as the state completes its switch to Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel, ULSD, fuel.

The change has been planned for the past year as federal and state governments, refiners, environmentalists and businesses prepare for new, cleaner operating heavy duty trucks equipped with advanced emission control systems that debut January 1, 2007.

California Air Resources Board, ARB, Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer said, "September 1 is an important date for California because we now have the nation's cleanest diesel fuel. This new diesel fuel allows us to proceed with our plans to cut diesel emissions by 85 percent in 2020 and to meet Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger's goal of cutting air pollution by one-half."

The new cleaner big rigs will meet the tightest emission standards ever set for heavy duty trucks and buses and require very low sulfur fuel to operate properly. Without clean fuel those engines cannot use new emission control equipment such as particulate traps to control toxic particulate soot and catalysts that limit ozone-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, the most common pollutants emitted by diesels.

The new fuel will allow the ARB to continue its diesel risk reduction plan, RRP, a set of regulations designed to cut the public health risks of diesel particulate by 85 percent in 2020.

The risk reduction plan calls for slashes in diesel particulate from a number of pollution sources such as trucks and buses, farm and construction equipment as well as pumps and boilers. Locomotives and harborcraft such as tugs must begin using ULSD by January 1, 2007.

The diesel RRP is closely tied to the recently released ARB Emission Reduction Plan for Ports and Goods Movement that seeks to cut deaths in California associated with efforts to transport goods in and out of the state by truck, train or ship.

ARB scientists estimate that currently up to 2,500 Californians die prematurely each year from exposure to diesel exhaust caused by goods movement. The emission reduction plan will cut the number of premature deaths to 800 despite a three-fold rise in goods movement activity by 2020.

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Court Vindicates BLM Whistleblower Who Exposed Radiation Violations

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - A federal administrative law judge ruled today that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, BLM, illegally dismissed a manager overseeing the cleanup of the Anaconda Mine for pursuing worker safety, as well as radiation, air and water pollution violations.

Earle Dixon, the project manager for the Anaconda Mine at Yerington, Nevada, was fired from his position in October 2004 on the day before his probationary period would have elapsed. Following a three-day hearing in Reno, Dixon was awarded back pay, $10,000 in moving expenses, attorney fees and costs.

The BLM may appeal this decision to the Administrative Review Board of the Secretary of Labor.

"This is both a victory for Earle Dixon and for the idea that the federal government is not above the law," said Richard Condit, general counsel with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, who co-counseled the case with Dixon's lead counsel, Mick Harrison.

Dixon clashed with then BLM Nevada Director Bob Abbey for raising problems that were being officially ignored because they would drive up cleanup costs.

The whistleblower spotlighted radiation readings well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite, and higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells.

He blew the whistle on BLM non-compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including public exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air borne dust.

At one point, the BLM returned $700,000 in federal cleanup funds that had been earmarked for Anaconda Mine rather than admit that spreading contamination and radiation needed to be addressed.

The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid runoff and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other toxic metals have been deposited in unlined ponds.

The mine has had a succession of owners, including, most recently, the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Today, half the site is located on public lands managed by the BLM.

Dixon's job was to coordinate the hazardous waste management and compliance at the site with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Nevada, tribes and responsible private parties.

At the hearing, Dixon's co-workers at BLM and colleagues from other federal and state agencies described Dixon's dogged efforts to secure environmental compliance. As a result of Dixon's disclosures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to assume management of the site.

"While this ruling is some compensation, the federal officials responsible for this travesty will not likely be held to account," Condit said, noting that Bob Abbey has retired. "Earle Dixon's courage helped shield Nevadans from the neglect of their own government."

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Privacy of Membership Lists Upheld

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, has defeated an attempt by the state of Tennessee and Waste Management Inc. to obtain the group's membership list as a condition for challenging a landfill permit. The victory means that non-profit groups who file citizen complaints do not need to divulge their membership rolls or other internal details that are not pertinent to their objections.

PEER is a service organization for public employees, whose membership lists include thousands of current state and federal employees. Disclosure of their names could have jeopardized their careers.

PEER filed a motion arguing that the secrecy of its membership is protected by First Amendment freedom of association, as well as state and federal law.

"We will never surrender our membership list for any reason," said PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, noting that confidentiality is the hallmark of the group. "In our 14 years of existence, PEER has never breached an employee confidence and we are not about to start now."

The underlying dispute involves a state permit allowing Waste Management, Inc., WMI, to expand a demolition waste landfill along the Cumberland River.

Among the issues raised by PEER is that the site WMI wants to develop includes wetlands that had been set aside to be "preserved in perpetuity" as mitigation for an earlier expansion into another wetland.

"To Waste Management and the state, in perpetuity means only about ten years," said Barry Sulkin, former head of enforcement for the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation, TDEC, water pollution program and now director of the Tennessee office of PEER. "The identity of our members is irrelevant to whether the state acted illegally in granting this permit."

Waste Management moved to force PEER to disclose its membership rolls as a condition of waging the challenge, arguing, among other things, that PEER members could include employees of state and federal regulatory agencies, such as the TDEC and the Army Corps of Engineers, who were acting as "double agents" against their employers. TDEC moved to join WMI's demand.

As a result of PEER's legal filing, an administrative judge for the state Water Quality Control Board allowed the organization to pursue its permit challenges without having to disclose its membership.

An African-American group, called Bordeaux Beautiful, whose members are located near the demolition waste landfill, has joined PEER in contesting the WMI permit. Local elected officials are also joining the fight against the landfill expansion.

"Now the real battle begins," Sulkin said. "This fight is against more trash in the wetlands."

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Flame Retardants Building Up in Washington Rivers, Lakes

OLYMPIA, Washington, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - The Washington Department of Ecology today released a study showing that concentrations of flame retardants are increasing in some of Washington's rivers and lakes. Flame retardants are used in everyday items - from computer casings to carpet pads to foam cushions in chairs and couches - to reduce their ability to catch fire.

The chemical additives used as flame retardants are known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, PBDEs.

Ecology researchers collected fish from 20 major rivers and lakes throughout Washington during 2005. Three or four fish species were analyzed for each waterbody. The goal of the survey was to establish existing levels of PBDEs that could be used in the future to evaluate the effectiveness of the state's efforts to reduce these chemicals in the environment.

Total PBDE concentrations in fish are less than 10 parts per billion in most rivers and lakes. But, certain fish species from several large water bodies - Palouse River, Columbia River, Lake Washington, Snohomish River, Cowlitz River, and Snake River - have total PBDE concentrations in the 10 - 200 parts per billion range.

High PBDE concentrations were found throughout the Spokane River, exceeding 1,000 parts per billion in some cases.

Overall, rivers have higher PBDE levels than lakes.

Except for the Spokane River, the PBDE levels fall within the range observed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency nationwide in lakes. The Spokane River also appears high when compared to other sources of data on PBDEs in fish from North American rivers and lakes.

"The source of PBDEs in the Spokane River is unclear," said Dave Peeler, Ecology's water quality program manager. "Identifying those sources is a high priority so that we can begin to control them."

A growing body of research indicates that PBDEs are building up in people's bodies, in animals and in the environment. The precise way that people are exposed to PBDEs is not fully known, but recent research points to human exposure from indoor air and dust and from certain foods, especially some species of fish.

PBDEs have been linked to problems with brain and reproductive organ development and with disruption of normal hormone levels in laboratory rodents. Research is under way by regulatory, human health and natural resource agencies in the United States to establish what levels of PBDEs may adversely affect human health, aquatic life, or wildlife.

"It's important to track these contaminants and take steps to reduce their levels in the environment," said Washington Department of Health's Rob Duff. "At the same time, we recommend that people include fish in their diet and choose from the many fish known to be low in contaminants."

PBDEs, like many other chemicals, build up in the fat of some species of fish. People can reduce exposures to PBDEs by preparing and cooking fish in ways that reduce the fat. The Department of Health's Fish Facts website provides information about including fish as a healthy part of a balanced diet.

In 2004, the state departments of ecology and health began studying PBDEs and developing an action plan to reduce these chemicals in the environment.

The final PBDE action plan issued in January 2006 recommends that the Legislature ban Deca-BDE, the most widely used PBDE and the only one remaining in production - provided that safer, effective alternatives are identified.

The agencies also recommended an immediate ban on two forms of PBDEs known as Penta-BDE and Octa-BDE, which are already being phased out of production. None of the recommendations would impact fire safety.

Janice Adair, a policy advisor at the Ecology says the agency "strongly supported" a bill last session that would have implemented these recommendations. "That bill didn't pass, but our position remains the same, and we hope to see similar legislation in the upcoming session."

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U.S. Wind Power Generation Hits New High

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2006 (ENS) - U.S. wind energy installations now exceed 10,000 megawatts in generating capacity, and produce enough electricity on a typical day to power the equivalent of over 2.5 million homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association, AWEA. A megawatt of wind power generates enough to serve 250 to 300 average homes.

"Wind energy is providing new electricity supplies that work for our country's economy, environment, and energy security," said AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher. "With its current performance, wind energy is demonstrating that it could rapidly become an important part of the nation's power portfolio."

The record growth in wind power is driven by demand for the popular energy source and concerns over fuel price volatility and supply. It was also made possible by a timely renewal of the production tax credit, a federal incentive extended in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Previously, the credit had been allowed to expire three times in seven years, and this uncertainty discouraged investment in wind turbine manufacturing in the country.

AWEA is calling for a long-term extension of the tax credit before its scheduled expiration at the end of 2007 to avoid further "on-again-off-again" cycles and encourage long term investment.

Today, the industry is installing more wind power in a single year - 3,000 megawatts expected in 2006 - than the amount operating in the entire country in the year 2000, when just 2,500 megawatts were generated.

Wind was the second-largest source of new power generation in the country in 2005 after natural gas, and is likely be so again in 2006, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Wind turbine manufacturing companies have recently opened facilities in Iowa (Clipper Windpower), Minnesota (Suzlon), and Pennsylvania (Gamesa), and wind turbine orders are creating jobs all the way down the supply chain, sometimes in areas that do not have a large wind resource, such as Louisiana.

The AWEA points out the environmental benefits of wind power, saying, "Today's 10,000 MW of wind power are keeping 16 million tons of carbon dioxide, CO2, the most prevalent greenhouse gas associated with global warming, out of the air every year.

If the same amount of electricity as that generated by America's 10,000-MW wind turbine fleet were instead produced using the average utility fuel mix, it would emit 73,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 27,000 tons of nitrogen oxide per year, as well as other pollutants such as mercury, the AWEA says.

Today's 10,000 MW of wind power saves about 0.6 billion cubic feet or natural gas per day, or about 3.5 percent of the natural gas used nationwide to generate electricity.

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