House Bill Lifts Highly Enriched Uranium BanWASHINGTON, DC, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - A House energy bill lifts existing restrictions on U.S. exports of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium for medical uses. The move has been condemned by nuclear nonproliferation groups.
The provision, added as an amendment to a House energy bill, is "utterly irresponsible," said Edwin Lyman, president of Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a non-proliferation research and advocacy center.
"It needlessly undermines an important 1992 U.S. nonproliferation law and increases the risk of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons."
The amendment weakens strict conditions on the export of highly enriched uranium for use in targets to produce medical isotopes. It creates a loophole that would allow foreign producers to import substantial quantities of highly enriched uranium with minimal restrictions.
NCI contends the existing law has created incentives for isotope producers throughout the world to cooperate in developing and converting to targets made from low enriched uranium, which is unsuitable for weapons.
Without the leverage provided by the existing law, "no foreign isotope producer would ever be likely to convert its production process from utilization of highly enriches uranium targets to much safer low enriched uranium targets," said Alan Kuperman, NCI senior policy analyst.
"The result would be permanent U.S exports of increasing amounts of bomb-grade uranium - presenting a persistently ripe target for Osama bin Laden and his ilk."
NCI contends the amendment fixes a problem that does not exist. Representative Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, offered the amendment, citing concerns that the existing law jeopardizes reliable supplies of medical isotopes.
But Lyman says all responsible isotope producers already are assured a steady supply of target material to produce isotopes.
"Congress should be working to facilitate conversion of all isotope producers that remain dependent on bomb-grade uranium, not enacting measures to discourage conversion," Lyman said.
Conservationists Sue EPA Over Arizona Water QualitySAN FRANCISCO, California, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - Two conservation groups filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) transfer of Arizona water quality regulation to state officials.
The organizations believe EPA failed to protect the natural environment when it transferred authority over the federal Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System" to the state of Arizona on December 5, 2002.
The EPA gave the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality the authority to regulate facilities and municipalities that discharge pollutants into surface waters.
"EPA turned a bind eye to the harm to endangered species that will result from handing the water quality program and regulations against sprawl to Arizona," said Mike Senatore, litigation director for Defenders of Wildlife.
Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the suit with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The organizations say the EPA gave the state of Arizona regulatory authority after conservationists sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in April 2002. The suit alleged that the federal agencies had failed to protect endangered species when granting Clean Water Act permits for urban development.
Granting Arizona authority, the organizations say, was done to remove the legal confines of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.
They contend this violated the law because the EPA is required by the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered species and habitat.
"EPA's transfer of the water quality program is a cynical maneuver to let developers off the hook for protection of the desert and endangered species," said David Hogan, Urban Wildlands Program Coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Sawfish Granted Endangered Species Act ProtectionWASHINGTON, DC, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - The government has listed the smalltooth sawfish as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This is first endangered listing for a marine fish in U.S. waters, according to the announcement by the National Marine Fisheries Service on Monday.
Scientists estimate the original U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish has declined by 99 percent. It once ranged from the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico to North Carolina, but the species is now found only in the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park.
"This is an animal that inhabits shallow coastal waters of tropical seas and estuaries very close to muddy and sandy bottoms and is not seen very much," said Bill Hogarth, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"With this listing, we hope that people will become more aware of this vulnerable sawfish, and will help in our efforts to save it for future generations."
The smalltooth sawfish is a large, sharklike fish that can grow more than 18 feet in length and live for some 20 years. Its name comes form a tooth-studded, snout that looks like a saw blade.
Conservationists hailed the decision to protect the species, which has declined due to habitat loss and incidental take by fishers.
"Sawfish are among the most endangered and yet under-protected fish in the world," said Sonja Fordham, Ocean Conservancy fish conservation project manager with The Ocean Conservancy. "In the United States, the Endangered Species Act will provide the recognition and impetus for conservation that is crucial to saving this unique animal from extinction."
The Ocean Conservancy petitioned for the listing of the species in 1999. The petition also requested protection for the largetooth sawfish, but the government has decided not to list the species.
Conservationists Seek Legal Remedy for Gray WolfWASHINGTON, DC, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife today filed notice that it will challenge the Bush administration's rule that changes the protection status of the gray wolf.
The organization filed a 60 day notice letter with the Department of the Interior, identifying several legal deficiencies in the final gray wolf rule issued last month by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
The rule, published on March 18, 2003, changed the status of gray wolf populations throughout the lower 48, except for those in the Southeast, from "endangered" to "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. It also divided the gray wolf population of the lower 48 states into three Distinct Population Segments.
Defenders of Wildlife believes the FWS is declaring wolves "recovered" across broad expanses of the species' historic range, based on small successes in specific portions of that range. The letter says the FWS designation of DPS for the wolf was an arbitrary decision not based on science.
"Recovery of a species has a very specific meaning under the Endangered Species Act, and we are not there yet," said William Snape, vice president for law and litigation at Defenders of Wildlife. "Half done is not the same as fully done."
In a related action, the organization petitioned the FWS for a DPS designation for the gray wolf in the Northeast. In its current rule, the FWS combined the Northeast with the Great Lakes states into one large DPS for the wolf.
Defenders of Wildlife contends there is no evidence of wolves currently in the Northeast and the areas are too far apart to be considered one region.
The organization's president sharply criticized Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton and said she is "endangering everything her agency has achieved so far."
"Secretary Norton's antagonism to the mission of her department and to saving America's wildlife is now well established," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "We intend to prove in court that in her ceaseless efforts to benefit the Bush administration's political supporters at the expense of America's wildlife and wild lands, she has once again broken the law."
Scientists Chase Theory of Running ElephantsBOULDER, Colorado, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - A new study finds that scientists are having a hard time determining if elephants can run.
That is not to say elephants do not move at fast speeds - some have been clocked at 15 miles per hour..
But the researchers, who published their findings in the today's edition of "Nature," say that elephants do not meet the classic definition of running.
This definition requires all four feet to be off the ground, explained coauthor Rodger Kram, a professor in University of Colorado at Boulder's kinesiology and applied psychology department
"An elephant at a fast speed always has at least one foot on the ground, and any kid on a playground will tell you that is not really running," Kram said.
But the scientists determined that an elephant's center of mass appears to bounce at high speeds and this is consistent with the biomechanical definition of running.
"Although all four feet never leave the ground at the same time, they 'bounce' up and down using the springy tendons in their legs," Kram said.
The researchers say the elephants seem to flex their limbs substantially in order to move their bodies more smoothly.
For their experiments, the researchers palpated the animals' limbs to find their joints, and then marked the joints with large dots of water-soluble, nontoxic paint.
They videotaped 188 trials of 42 Asian elephants walking and running through a 100-foot course and measured their speed with photo sensors and video analysis.
"Understanding the gait of an elephant can give us insight into physical stresses on overweight people," Kram said. "We may be the last generation of researchers to be able to study the locomotion of wild or active Asian elephants."
El Nino, Forest Fires Fuel Record Air PollutionCAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists from Harvard University have determined that the most intense global pollution from fires occurred during droughts caused by El Nino.
Using satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the scientists quantified the amount of smoke pollution from biomass burning over 20 years.
Biomass burning is the combustion of both living and dead vegetation and includes fires generated both by lightning and human activity. Humans are responsible for about 90 percent of biomass burning.
"It is important to study biomass burning, because those fires produce as much pollution as use of fossil fuels," said Jennifer Logan, one of the Harvard researchers. "Most of the pollution from fires is produced in the tropics, while pollution from fossil fuel use occurs in North America, Europe and Asia."
Logan and her colleagues found the most intense fires took place in 1997-1998 in association with the strongest El Nino event of the 20th century.
During this El Nino, Indonesia, Mexico, and Central America experienced extreme droughts, and severe forest fires.
"We found that fires typically produce the most pollution in Southeast Asia in March, in northern Africa in January and February, and in southern Africa and Brazil in August and September," Logan said.
The scientists concluded biomass burning in this timeframe was greater than in any other period between 1979 and 2000.
The amount of carbon monoxide emitted in 1997 and 1998 was about 30 percent higher than the amount emitted from worldwide motor vehicle and fossil fuel combustion.
Federal Cuts Impact State Wildlife RestorationOLYMPIA, Washington, April 3, 2003 (ENS) - Washington state officials warn that the state's conservation work with eastern Washington farmers and landowners will cut this year due to loss of federal funding.
The state's Ecosystem Conservation Project was not included in this year's federal budget. Federal funding makes up some 60 percent of the state's budget for its Upland Wildlife Restoration Project in all eastside counties.
The project facilitates coordinated efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat.
The funding loss means a reduction of some $1 million, according to WDFW Lands Division Manager Mark Quinn.
"This funding cut is going to have a significant impact on our ability to continue this program without major changes or reductions," Quinn said. "In addition, our employees whose positions have been funded by this program have been an important bridge to private landowners and have been instrumental in implementation of various farm bill programs and other conservation initiatives on private lands across the state."
These employees work with farmers and other landowners in voluntary, incentive-based programs to improve habitat for fish and wildlife by planting grasses, trees, and shrubs, modifying agricultural practices and installing water developments.
More than 60 percent of the state is privately owned and the program has played a major role in improving habitat for fish and wildlife on privately owned lands, Quinn explained.
Over the past decade, the Upland Wildlife Restoration Program has worked with 1,296 private landowners to enhance hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, install 1,100 wildlife watering devices and post 25,000 signs on over three million acres with hunting access and habitat agreements.
"We will be looking at all options to try and maintain the program and to minimize the impact of this budget reduction," Quinn said.