AmeriScan: April 26, 2002

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Carnival Cruise Company Fined $18 Million

MIAMI, Florida, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - Carnival Corp., which operates 40 cruise ships including those of the Carnival Cruise Lines, has agreed to pay $18 million in fines for falsification of oil record logs.

The company pleaded guilty on April 19 to six felony counts of falsifying oil record books on several of its ships. The company will pay $18 million in fines, $9 million of which will be used for a variety of environmental community service projects.

Carnival was also ordered to implement and enforce a new corporation wide environmental compliance program, adding several executive positions and boat officers to enforce water treatment programs, at an estimated cost of $10 million.

"Carnival Corporation accepts responsibility for the conduct that is the subject of its guilty plea," the company said in a statement. "Carnival cooperated fully with the government's investigation which is now fully and finally concluded. The company is committed to environmental compliance, and we are adopting a compliance program that will make Carnival the industry leader in sound environmental practices."

Carnival admitted to falsifying its logs on numerous occasions between 1996 and 2001. During that period, Carnival employees ran fresh water past the sensors in the oil water separators of Carnival ships, generating false oil concentration readings, and failing to activate a diversion valve that would have otherwise kept the contaminated water on board.

As a result, bilge water with oil levels exceeding the allowable limit of 15 parts per million was flushed into the sea.

Carnival was convicted not of polluting the ocean, but of log falsification, because crew members took the false sensor readings and recorded them in the ships' oil record books, a violation of federal law.

U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, who represented the government in the case, said Carnival bypassed equipment aimed at protecting the environment to save money.

"It literally saved the company millions of dollars not to comply with the law," Lewis said at a press conference Friday. "It's going to be a very costly mistake."

Carnival Corp. will be on probation for five years, during which the federal courts will monitor the company's compliance with environmental laws.

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House Committee Votes to Override Yucca Veto

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - The House Energy and Commerce Committee has voted to override Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn's veto of the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump.

In a 41 to six vote, the committee backed a congressional resolution overruling the governor's veto. The vote sends the resolution to the full House, which is expected to approve the measure.

Abraham

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. (Photo courtesy House Energy and Commerce Committee)
"By rejecting Nevada's disapproval, the Committee agrees that sound science has guided this decision," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Nothing that the opponents of Yucca Mountain have presented rises to the burden of proof that would not allow the licensing and full review of the science by the NRC to move forward."

In February, President George W. Bush selected the Yucca Mountain site as the nation's only permanent repository for high level nuclear wastes, the most dangerous of radioactive wastes. The Department of Energy plans use the site to store 77,000 tons of radioactive wastes and spent fuel from nuclear power plants throughout the United States and 42 countries.

Earlier this month, Guinn, a Republican, used his authority under a special federal law to veto the Bush administration's approval of Yucca Mountain.

If both the House and the Senate override Guinn's veto, the final decision would be left up to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository.

Opponents of the Yucca Mountain site hope that the Democratically controlled Senate will opt to let Guinn's veto stand.

The Energy Department argues that a single permanent dump for nuclear waste will be easier to safeguard than the dozens of temporary respositories now scattered around the nation.

"America's national, energy and homeland security, as well as environmental protection is well served by siting a single repository at Yucca Mountain, rather than having nuclear waste stranded in temporary storage containers located at 131 sites in 39 states," Abraham said.

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Energy Department Itemizes Withheld Documents

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has released an index of all the documents relating to the National Energy Policy that it has withheld or censored.

The agency says the release, which includes 400 pages of previously withheld documents, complies with two court orders in cases brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"With today's release, DOE has met all of the Court's requirements and concluded its production of documents in response to these FOIA requests," the DOE said in a statement.

The NRDC said it will return to court next week to seek additional documents that the group says the DOE is withholding illegally. In particular, the NRDC is seeking records maintained by the task force's executive director, Andrew Lundquist, and other task force staff members who were employees of the DOE.

"The Energy Department is still stonewalling," said Sharon Buccino, an NRDC senior attorney. "While the administration continues to keep critical information secret, its energy plan is moving forward both on Capitol Hill and on the ground in the West."

Energy exploration and production on public lands, she pointed out, have expanded over the past year.

The DOE's index, known in FOIA proceedings as a Vaughn index, describes more than 4,300 documents and provides a legal basis for the agency's decisions to withhold or censor each document. The DOE withheld each document or portion of a document based on "well established exemptions from disclosure set forth in the Freedom of Information Act, including the exemptions from disclosure for private personal information, security related information, and pre-decisional materials relating to the agency's deliberative process," the agency said.

The NRDC says that among the new documents released Thursday include email exchanges showing that DOE officials solicited advice from energy industry representatives, and asked energy representatives to check the accuracy of DOE statements.

"Not only did industry hold the pen for the Bush administration when it wrote its energy policy, it apparently did its fact checking, too," said Buccino.

The NRDC has posted the DOE's index at: http://www2.nrdc.org/air/energy/taskforce/pdf/doevaughn.pdf

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Western Air Pollution Plan Wins Initial Approval

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed approval of a groundbreaking clean air program to clear the haze air pollution in western national parks and wilderness areas.

The EPA gave its initial approval to the provisions of the Western Regional Air Partnership (WRAP) Annex Plan plan. The WRAP partnership, which includes several western states, tribes, and interest groups, works to protect the visibility of such areas such as the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Canyonlands and to improve air quality in the western United States.

"I believe the plan that the partnership has presented is an innovative approach to improving air quality," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "You have demonstrated that environmental regulators, affected businesses, and environmental groups can work together to find mutually acceptable solutions to air quality problems."

In September 2000, the WRAP submitted a plan containing recommendations for implementing EPA's regional haze rule in the Western United States. The plan recommends a series of regional emissions reduction milestones for sulfur dioxide, a key ingredient in regional haze.

The plan defines an emissions allowance trading program for nine Western states and eligible Indian tribes that would help ensure that emissions reduction goals are met.

Under the plan, states and tribes would collect annual emission reports and use them to develop an emissions total for the region. If the regional total exceeds the annual milestone, the emissions allowance market trading program would be triggered to ensure that emission reduction milestones and visibility goals are met.

Industrial facilities in the region covered by the WRAP now emit about 650,000 tons per year of sulfur dioxide. By 2018, this proposal would reduce emissions by almost one third.

"This ground breaking program is the equivalent of a clean air bargain for the West," said John Nielsen, energy project director for the conservation group Land and Water Fund of the Rockies. "It protects scenic vistas by lowering western air pollution from power plants and other industrial sources in a highly cost effective manner."

The EPA's proposed rule is available at: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/ramain.html

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Suit Seeks Protection for Beluga Sturgeon

NEW YORK, New York, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has filed suit in federal district court in Manhattan against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to list beluga sturgeon as an endangered species.

If beluga sturgeon is listed as endangered, all imports of beluga caviar into the U.S. would be prohibited. The United States consumes about 80 percent of all beluga caviar exports.

"Beluga sturgeon are on the brink of extinction, largely due to the demand for beluga caviar," said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the NRDC. "We are literally killing the goose that lays the golden eggs."

"A ban on beluga caviar imports into the United States will reduce the pressure on beluga sturgeon and improve its prospects for survival," Speer added.

All sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, the source of the majority of world caviar production, are at risk of vanishing. The global caviar market has placed a premium on sturgeon, prompting overfishing and illegal trade. Other major threats to the species include habitat loss and pollution.

"Once again, the government is dragging its feet on a critical conservation issue," said Andrew Wetzler, an attorney at NRDC. "Once again, the environmental community has had to sue the government to get it to do its job."

Caviar Emptor, a coalition of NRDC, the Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in December 2000, asking that beluga sturgeon be declared an endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government has 90 days to issue a preliminary finding and 12 months to decide whether the proposed listing is warranted.

To date, the government has failed to issue either of the required findings.

The USFWS's failure to act follows a decision last month by an international wildlife trade commission to permit the resumption of international trade in Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar, including beluga caviar. Conservation groups condemned this action, warning that it places several sturgeon species at risk of extinction.

The NRDC, Wildlife Conservation Society and SeaWeb have called for a halt in trade of beluga caviar, large reductions in trade of other Caspian Sea caviars, and more international funding to help Caspian states improve sturgeon fisheries management, enforcement and habitat protection.

The United States imported more than 33,000 pounds of beluga caviar in 2000. The Caviar Emptor campaign advises consumers who wish to continue eating caviar to make a better environmental choice by buying U.S. aquacultured or farmed caviar.

More information on the decline of Caspian Sea sturgeon is available at: http://www.caviaremptor.org/

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Conservation Groups Seek Special Status for Wild Fish

PORTLAND, Oregon, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - A group of 17 conservation groups filed petitions today with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), arguing that Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection should apply to only the wild fish among 15 West Coast salmon and steelhead stocks.

Trout Unlimited and Oregon Trout, the two lead groups on the petitions, say the definition of a wild fish is any naturally spawned fish belonging to a native population.

A controversial court opinion issued last September found that NMFS had erred in considering only wild populations of the fish when determining whether they qualified for ESA protection. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan ruled that for salmon and steelhead stocks that are include both hatchery born and wild fish, NMFS could not list only one component of that stock under the ESA, and not the other.

That ruling triggered a number of actions, including a slew of petitions to de-list more than two dozen listed fish populations that include hatchery fish. Conservation groups are using the Hogan precedent to seek exclusive protection for wild fish.

"Judge Hogan's ruling gave us a legal foothold to bring ESA protections for wild fish in this region up to date with the latest science," said Kaitlin Lovell of Trout Unlimited. "It's the wild fish that need protection, and the science increasingly shows that one thing they need protection from is hatchery fish."

While the Hogan ruling has been stayed under appeal, the hatchery versus wild debate has continued, with special interests seeking to seize the opportunity to relax or do away with current ESA protections.

"Despite clever public relations jockeying by some interests, the ESA is about recovering wild fish in their natural environments, not protecting fish raised in swimming pools," said Joe Whitworth of Oregon Trout. "NMFS' own biologists, properly, have never strayed from the position that hatchery fish generally impede wild fish recovery. These petitions provide NMFS a road map to arrive at proper biological outcomes that do not run afoul of the law."

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Expedition Plumbs Depths of Pacific Sanctuaries

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - Hidden features of five Pacific Coast national marine sanctuaries will be brought to light in a two month exploration of their ocean depths.

On Wednesday, a group of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists and resource managers began probing the underwater environments of five Pacific sanctuaries through a program called Sanctuary Quest: West Coast Expedition 2002.

The U.S. coast from southern California to Washington state features vast areas of submerged mountain ranges, canyons, volcanoes and rocky outcrops, many of which have never been surveyed or explored. These unique conditions contribute to one of the greatest diversities of marine life in the world, including whales, sea otters, seabirds and hundreds of fish species.

Using the research tools of the NOAA ship McArthur and a U.S. Navy remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the expedition scientists will undertake five ocean missions starting in the deep waters of California's Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and ending in Washington's Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary 60 days later.

The mission will explore three other NOAA marine sanctuaries in Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Cordell Bank, all located along the California coast. The use of the ROV continues work that began with a NOAA / National Geographic Society Sustainable Seas Expedition in 1999 and 2000.

"We will be able to observe and collect data in deep underwater mountains, canyons, and volcano habitats that we know little about and have never explored before," said Daniel Basta, director of NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.

"Our scientists will compare these relatively undisturbed underwater areas with those that have been altered by human activity. These results will have direct application to management issues and will contribute to the ongoing research and data collection within the sanctuary program," Basta added. "We will also investigate ship wrecks as cultural resources and for their potential impact on the marine environment."

Over the long term, the expedition will help federal resource managers understand the role of the sanctuary system in protecting and conserving marine resources that exist in a much larger natural ecosystem.

"We are working to understand how the sanctuaries function as a system," said Basta. "The observations and data are critically needed to make sound management decisions."

Sanctuary Quest is part of an ongoing exploration of the country's 13 national marine sanctuaries, a system of marine areas designated by Congress to protect and preserve their biodiversity and cultural legacy.

In September, the Pacific expedition will be expanded to include a monitoring survey from Kodiak Alaska to Washington state, and additional survey work along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

To follow the expedition's explorations, visit: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/

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Algae Blooms Fuel Ocean Food Web

SANTA BARBARA, California, April 26, 2002 (ENS) - The color of the ocean may yield clues about the relation between marine ecosystems and the climate system, say scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

A green ocean is a productive ocean. The light from the sun fuels the bloom of phytoplankton, tiny ocean plants that turn the sea's surface a light green each spring.

"When viewed from space, the north Atlantic spring bloom is among the largest mass greenings observed on the Earth's surface, extending over scales of more than 2,000 kilometers [1,243 miles]," states the article. The blooming moves north at speeds of up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) per day, leaving a green wake in its path.

This production in turn drives ocean food webs, and helps transport carbon dioxide into the deep ocean.

UCSB researcher David Siegel and colleagues analyzed ocean color data from the satellite Sea viewing Wide Field of view Sensor (Sea WiFS) to learn more about the factors regulating the spring bloom of phytoplankton in the north Atlantic Ocean. Their research appears today in the journal "Science."

"The productivity of the ocean is well established," said Siegel. "What we don't know is how it gets recycled, how the food chain works. We're trying to get at these loss processes, which will tell us how the ocean's biological pump works."

The biological pump is the mechanism by which carbon dioxide is transported from the surface ocean into the deep ocean by attaching to sinking particles, such as the remains of phytoplankton that have died off after blooms. Understanding how carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is absorbed by the ocean, and how different mechanisms contribute to this absorption, is a critical factor in understanding global climate change.

From the satellite information, Siegel and colleagues learned that the primary condition needed to start a spring bloom is enough light reaching down into the water column, a condition that occurs when ocean waters turn over or mix in the spring.

"We were able to confirm that a simple model developed many years ago, based on observations in coastal waters can be used to explain the timing of the spring growth period in the entire North Atlantic," said Jim Yoder, a co-author of the paper and division director of ocean sciences at the National Science Foundation.

"We also quantified the role that plankton animals and bacteria play in determining the timing of the phytoplankton bloom and its duration," Yoder added.

Previous research on spring blooms was done at sea with microscopes and other tools. By using satellites, Siegel and Yoder were able to evaluate the process using tens of thousands of data points, rather than just a few.

The satellite ocean color data provides measurements that cover the entire north Atlantic during all seasons and years. Such measurements are a tool for studying natural phytoplankton variability - an important characteristic of marine ecosystems.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.pl/drmc.htm