AmeriScan: August 3, 2001

EPA ESTIMATES COSTS OF CLEAN WATER TMDL PROGRAM

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Implementing one of the key tools under the Clean Water Act for cleaning up the nation's waters, called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program, could cost between $900 million and $4.3 billion dollars each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said today.

The draft cost study complements a report issued on June 19 by the National Academy of Sciences recommending changes to the TMDL program. One key finding of the NAS report was that many states lack sufficient data to develop TMDLs for all of their impaired waters.

TMDLs are pollution limits set for a waterway, and are used to mandate pollution controls among all sources, both point sources (industrial and municipal dischargers) and non-point sources (agriculture and urban runoff).

The EPA cost study estimates the costs to states of additional data gathering to support the TMDL program at $17 million per year. Once states have collected good data, they will need to spend up to $69 million each year over the next 15 years to develop plans to clean up some 20,000 impaired waters now on state lists, the study found.

State costs to develop a cleanup plan for each of these 20,000 waters are projected to average about $52,000 per plan. In the current fiscal year, up to $210 million in grants is available to states for TMDL and related clean water work, including monitoring.

The study projects implementation costs - the costs of installing measures to reduce pollution - of between $900 million and $4.3 billion per year. The report notes that the high end estimate of more than $4 billion to implement the cleanup is a fraction of current national expenditures for clean water.

These costs, most of which would be borne by the polluters, include about 90 percent of the waters now on state lists. For the remaining waters, such as waters impaired by mining or air deposition, the EPA does not have sufficient data to estimate cleanup costs at this time.

"Today's draft report gives us important new information to use in determining the most effective course in restoring America's waters," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "We will continue to work with all parties to find a better way to finish the important job of cleaning up our great rivers, lakes and streams."

The report was requested by Congress last fall. The EPA will accept public comment for 120 days on the draft report, which is available at: http://www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl

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INSECT RESISTANCE TO ENGINEERED CROPS DECODED

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Two reports published this week could help scientists understand why some insects develop resistance to genetically engineered crops that produce their own insectides.

Engineered crops with built in insecticides are becoming a popular tool for controlling agricultural pests. But some experts believe that using those modified crops could backfire by forcing the development of genetically resistant pests.

Now a team of geneticists has identified a gene that confers high levels of resistance in a common agricultural pest - a discovery which will allow farmers and government officials to take early steps to prevent uncontrollable outbreaks.

susceptible

Roundworms exposed to the Bt toxin normally show damaged internal organs (Two photos courtesy UCSD)
The geneticists, from North Carolina State University (NC State), Clemson University and the University of Melbourne, studied the DNA of the tobacco budworm moth, which feeds on a variety of crops and has developed resistance to most conventional chemical insecticides.

They found a recessive gene that gives the moth resistance to natural toxin from the soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Several crops - including cotton, which is a host plant for the moth's larvae - have been genetically encoded with the insecticidal Bt toxin, which kills all budworm moths except rare individuals that contain a pair of the recessive genes.

"Not only will knowledge about this gene enable us to detect the early signs of pests evolving resistance to the current engineered plants, it may also allow us to modify the plants so they will be defended against the new pest strains," said Dr. Fred Gould, the William Neal Reynolds Professor of entomology at NC State and a co-author of the report.

A second study, by biologists at the University of California - San Diego (UCSD), details the genetic and molecular means by which roundworms, and perhaps insects, can develop resistance to Bt in engineered crops and in traditional crop sprays. The team found that a mutant gene deletes a particular enzyme from the roundworms, which they hypothesize prevents the Bt toxin from attacking the pests' cells.

resistant

Resistant roundworms fed Bt toxin show no damage to their internal structures
"There are insects in the wild now that contain gene variants that allow them to be resistant to Bt toxins, but fortunately they are small in number," said Raffi Aroian, an assistant professor of biology at UCSD who headed the study. "However, as more crops with Bt genes are planted, it's only a matter of time before populations of Bt resistant insects grow numerous enough to become economically troublesome to farmers hoping to control these insects."

"But now that we know this mechanism of resistance, we can devise strategies to cope with this," added Aroian.

Both reports appear in today's issue of the journal "Science."

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BILL WOULD REWARD LANDOWNERS FOR CONSERVATION

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Senator Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, today introduced the Conservation Tax Incentives Act of 2001, which would give landowners an incentive to sell land for purposes of land conservation and preservation.

The legislation, which Jeffords said has the support of President George W. Bush, would allow landowners to exclude from their reported income 50 percent of the gain on sales of land or easements made for conservation purposes. The legislation has been endorsed by The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The American Farm Bureau, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Association of State Foresters.

"Environmentally sensitive land is being snapped up at an alarming pace," explained Jeffords. "We need to pass this bill."

"This could be the most important conservation initiative this session of Congress," said Bob Klein, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of Vermont. "This bill will allow landowners to protect the ecological value of their landholdings without forfeiting the lands' economic value."

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department's Nature Resources Inventory, over the period 1982-1997 the total acreage of developed land increased by more than 25 million acres. Also in that period, Vermont lost 63,000 acres to development.

Jeffords is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which considers all tax legislation.

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WHISTLEBLOWER WARNS OF SAFETY PROBLEMS AT VERMONT YANKEE

VERNON, Vermont, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Two citizens groups have filed a formal allegation with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) against the management of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon.

On Thursday, the Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) and the Union of Concerned Scientists submitted paperwork addressing safety concerns raised by an anonymous whistleblower. The whistleblower, who either recently worked or still works at Vermont Yankee, sent a message to CAN detailing concerns about the plant.

Upon receiving the message, Deborah Katz, executive director of CAN, called nuclear safety engineer David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists to discuss the substance of the whistleblower's allegations concerning the nuclear power plant.

As CAN and UCS have no means to confirm or deny the validity of the whistleblower's concerns, the two environmental groups presented a formal allegation to the NRC concerning the whistleblower's description of what could pose serious problems at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

The whistleblower's key allegations are:

  1. Unauthorized individuals can access and operate plant equipment at the intake station and the cooling towers because the controls are not within locked enclosures.
  2. Reporting requirements have not been followed for problems with the circulating water system.
  3. An individual who formerly was a maintenance supervisor at the plant and is now in jail in New Hampshire on charges unrelated to operation of the plant "acted like a cowboy," with the implication that this individual discouraged or prevented the free and open reporting of safety concerns.
  4. Vermont Yankee is involved in arbitration or other legal proceeding regarding deficiencies in the performance of the circulating water system.

"CAN is concerned that as Vermont Yankee is on the auction block; they are cutting corners to appear more profitable at the expense of safety," said Katz. "The Three Mile Island accident occurred because circulating coolant was inadvertently shut off from containment. Issues raised by this whistleblower present the potential for a similar danger."

"If the whistleblower's allegations are true, people in the evacuation zone around Vermont Yankee are not really safe under the NRC's new risk-informed inspections and enforcement program," said CAN's attorney Jonathan Block.

"The NRC recently found that everything at Vermont Yankee was in the code 'green' for go condition - that means their risk-based inspection program missed the items which are the substance of the allegation," Block added. "If the allegation is correct, the NRC's risk based inspection program is seriously flawed - and that means public health and safety has been compromised."

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CALIFORNIA PLEDGES $45 MILLION FOR RIVERSIDE GREEN SPACE

LOS ANGELES, California, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis and the state legislature have approved more than $45 million to fund development of parks and open space along the Los Angeles River.

"Governor Davis' efforts to fund urban parks along the Los Angeles River are unprecedented and far reaching," said Rachel Dinno, director of government relations for the Trust for Public Land. "These parks will provide valuable recreational opportunities and safe places for children to play in communities where people live and work."

The 2001-02 state budget bill signed by Governor Davis this week includes funding for two priority projects along the Los Angeles River: Cornfields in central Los Angeles and Wrigley Heights in the City of Long Beach.

The funds for the 32 acre Cornfields property will help create the first state park, open space and recreation complex ever developed in downtown Los Angeles, which will be served by a rail transit station making it accessible to millions of transit dependent families and children.

The funds for the properties known as Wrigley Heights, totaling 40 acres, will be used to establish the largest park and open space area along the river south of downtown Los Angeles, providing needed recreational space and habitat in one of the largest metropolitan cities and most densely populated areas in California.

"This budget reflects an effort to correct inequities in the state park system by creating a new state park in central Los Angeles. For the first time in decades, new state parks will be built where people live and work in Los Angeles," said Dinno. "These projects will spur urban renewal by turning brownfields into greenfields and foster economic growth in the community."

The Los Angeles River flows through 13 cities that are home to over eight million people. The river's 51 mile journey begins in the hills west of the San Fernando Valley and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach. The river runs through some of California's most park poor and densely populated communities.

"Governor Davis' plan champions urban renewal," added Dinno. "The Los Angeles River provides a great opportunity to re-green Los Angeles."

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FORT IRWIN EXPANSION THREATENS HABITAT, ENDANGERED SPECIES

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - The House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment Wednesday that would give the U.S. Army 110,000 acres of public lands and desert tortoise critical habitat in the Mojave Desert for expanded tank training exercises.

Public interest organizations have opposed the Army's proposal to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center in southern California for years, on the grounds that it would destroy vulnerable plants, wildlife and wilderness values.

"This rushed legislation would roll back protections for nearly 110,000 acres of protected critical habitat in the Mojave desert managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)," charged Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "These lands include critical habitat for the declining, threatened desert tortoise and the endangered Lane Mountain milkvetch and two Wilderness Study Areas in the spectacular Avawatz Mountains."

"If Congress continues to ignore the environmental issues and public concerns, it is likely that this issue will have to be settled in the courts," added Patterson.

Almost 100 environmental organizations sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton last week, protesting the proposed expansion.

"The desert tortoise used to be a common sight in the California desert but its numbers have dwindled catastrophically largely due to human factors," said Michael Connor, Ph.D., executive director of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. "It will take a giant effort to recover the tortoise in the west Mojave even without the base expansion. However, this legislation doesn't even make the Army accountable to pay for the full cost of the additional land and management that will be needed to offset this enormous hit."

Carrie Sandstedt of the California Wilderness Coalition agreed, adding, "The BLM should continue to manage these lands and keep them open to the public until the Army has complied with environmental laws. This will compel the Army to consider other alternatives and fully justify the need for this expansion before taking these lands away from the American public."

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CRITICAL HABITAT PROPOSED FOR VERNAL POOL SPECIES

SACRAMENTO, California, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will propose critical habitat next week for 15 endangered and threatened species in California that are dependent on vernal pool wetlands for their survival.

The proposals are part of a settlement between the Department of the Interior and Butte Environmental Council that was approved by the U.S. District Court in Sacramento on July 23.

On February 9, 2001, the District Court for the eastern district of California ordered the USFWS to complete a final critical habitat designation for four species of endangered or threatened freshwater shrimp by August 9, 2001. Under terms of the settlement, the agency will propose critical habitat designations for each of the four species of freshwater shrimp and also for eleven listed vernal pool plants, allowing for a minimum public comment period of at least 60 days, and with final designation of critical habitat on or before August 15, 2002.

"We are pleased to have reached a settlement in this case which will provide the additional time needed by our biologists to develop accurate critical habitat proposals for these vernal pool species" said Steve Thompson, acting manager of the USFWS California/Nevada operations office.

The species affected by this settlement include four species of freshwater shrimp - the Conservancy fairy shrimp, longhorn fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp and vernal pool fairy shrimp; and eleven plants - the Butte County meadowfoam, hairy orcutt, slender orcutt, San Joaquin Valley orcutt, Sacramento orcutt, Solano grass, Greene's tuctoria, Colusa grass, succulent (or fleshy) owl's clover, Hoover's spurge, and Contra Costa goldfields.

The vernal pool fairy shrimp is also found in Jackson County, Oregon.

Vernal pools, seasonal wetlands that fill with water during fall and winter rains, once dotted California's Central Valley and also occurred in southern California coastal areas. The majority of the coastal southern California pools were destroyed before 1990.

Biologists estimate that about 75 percent of this unique habitat has been lost in the Central Valley, and as much as 90 percent is gone from Southern Oregon's Agate Desert. The pools play a valuable role in the food chain for a wide array of animals, including birds of prey, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, frogs, toads, salamanders and pollinating insects.

"This settlement is an important step toward protecting the remaining wild vernal pool habitat in California," said Barbara Vlamis, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council. "We are delighted that we could work cooperatively with the Service to enhance the preservation of these species in their beautiful native wetlands for future generations."

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RESTAURANTS LOOK TO CONSERVATION TO KEEP COSTS LOW

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Some restaurant owners are turning to conservation to cope with higher energy prices, shows a new report from the National Restaurant Association.

The report, "Tableservice Restaurant Trends - 2001," shows the variety of conservation methods that restaurants are employing.

More than half of those surveyed said they had installed low water dishwashers and/or toilet fixtures and had modified lighting fixtures for conservation purposes. Others report water conservation by serving customers water upon request.

"Restaurateurs are conservation minded, doing their part to scale back on energy usage and we expect that to continue," said Steven Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association. "However, we strongly believe that the nation cannot afford not to have a comprehensive national energy policy to help businesses and individuals cope with surging energy costs."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the 12 month period ending in June of 2001, electricity prices in the commercial sector increased eight percent. Commercial electricity prices in the West South Central region of the United States jumped 24 percent, while prices in the Western region increased 17 percent in that same time period.

Restaurant operators are feeling the price increases. The new report shows that almost three out of four restaurant operators said they experienced an increase in utility costs in the past year.

Many restaurant operators are reducing garbage collection and disposal costs by recycling, the report notes. Operators report that almost seven out of 10 surveyed have a recycling program in action.

The National Restaurant Association provides its members with information about the energy situation as well as suggestions on how to further reduce energy costs. More information is available at: http://www.restaurant.org

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CROSS COUNTRY BIKE TRIP HIGHLIGHTS RIVER PROTECTION

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - Two businessmen will take time off from work to bicycle, hike and kayak across the United States beginning late this summer, to raise awareness and funds for restoring and protecting America's rivers.

Jeff Graft, a 34 year old regional manager of Pirates' Cove Adventure Golf of Traverse City, Michigan and Matt Brown, a 33 year old former fly fishing shop owner and professional river fishing guide from Salida, Colorado, will travel more than 5,000 miles to help support the habitat improvement and erosion control efforts of the Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) and the American Rivers organization.

"Everyone can't leave their work to pursue a cause, but Matt Brown and I believe the rivers in America are too endangered to be ignored," said Jeff Graft. "We also want to show that conservation efforts don't have to be built upon increased regulations or lawsuits, but can be built upon a better understanding of the consequences of our interaction with nature."

The four month long cross-country trek, called the "National River Care Expedition," will begin in Bella Bella, British Columbia on August 15 and end on or about Christmas Day this year. Both the CRA and American Rivers are confident many corporations will join others already donating toward the event, because almost two-thirds of Americans - about 130 million consumers - report they would be likely to switch brands or retailers to one associated with a good cause, according to a 1999 report.

Current contributors include: Cabela's, Coca Cola, Coleman, Exstream, GoLite, Harmony, Meijer, Perception and Stren.

More information is available at: http://www.rivercare.org or http://www.amrivers.com