AmeriScan: August 15, 2001

BUSH CALLS FOR FOREST THINNING DURING COLORADO TRIP

ESTES PARK, Colorado, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - During a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, President George W. Bush participated in a fire prevention and trail clearing project, and called for "smart management" of national forests to reduce wildfire risk.

"I want to emphasize the fact that through good forest management we can do a better job of containing fire," said Bush while walking along a trail in the park. "And I know there are some in our country that want to just, you know, let the forests fall apart. We're not going to let that happen in this administration. We're going to maintain them and we're going to make sure that if there is a fire, it does as little damage as possible."

In what was reported as the first visit by a U.S. president to Rocky Mountain National Park in more than 70 years, Bush participated with a group of young people in a fire prevention and trail clearing effort high up in the mountains.

At a picnic with the YMCA team, Bush praised the "wise public policy" being deployed at the park, calling for additional efforts to "thin out our forests, prevent the hazards of forest fire."

National and Colorado based environmental organizations held a rally including a mock forest of tree stumps and oil rigs, inviting Bush to visit wildlands in Colorado that are threatened by his Administration's forest and energy proposals. The groups released an open letter calling on the President to protect the natural treasures on Colorado's public lands by implementing a strong Roadless Area Conservation Rule and by restricting energy development on more sensitive backcountry areas.

"Colorado and the west are targeted as a sacrifice zone for temporary energy supplies," said Steve Smith, Southwest regional representative for the Sierra Club. "If this President and his cabinet will sacrifice a showcase jewel like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a few months supply of oil, think of the devastation they would allow in lesser known but equally special places like Colorado's forests and deserts."

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, prepared during the Clinton administration, would have protected 60 million acres of untracked forest lands, including 4.4 million acres in Colorado. The Bush Administration withdrew that rule and is now taking public comment on its own version, with the announced intention of weakening it.

"We urge the President to create his own public lands legacy by protecting our national forest roadless areas, and not just settle for photo opportunities in places protected by past Presidents," added Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for the Wilderness Society.

Bush also spoke about the $5 billion maintenance backlog facing the national parks, and reiterated his pledge to eliminate that backlog. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) senior vice president Ron Tipton called on the president to "devote attention to the natural resource problems of the park as well as to maintenance issues."

At Rocky Mountain National Park, exotic diseases are infecting wildlife, air pollution is poisoning alpine lakes, and insufficient funding is crippling the parks' ability to monitor invasive plant species adequately, Tipton warned.

"While we appreciate the Bush Administration's proposed funding to correct some of the problems in our national parks, Rocky Mountain and other parks need immediate assistance to protect valuable historical and cultural artifacts, wildlife and other resources," Tipton added.

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EPA SUED OVER MTBE REQUIREMENTS IN CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES, California, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - California has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), challenging the agency's decision to deny the state a waiver from federal clean air regulations for gasoline.

The lawsuit challenges a decision by the EPA to require that California continue to use methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that is intended to help improve air quality, but which has seeped from pipelines and underground tanks, polluting wells and spewed from boat and watercraft engines, polluting lakes and reservoirs.

The chemical, a suspected carcinogen, gives water a foul taste and odor even in very small amounts. California maintains that it can meet clean air requirements without using oxygenates such as MTBE.

The federal Clean Air Act of 1990 required oxygenates in gasoline to improve air quality, and MTBE became oil refiners' oxygenate of choice. However, MTBE - which is water soluble and does not degrade - soon found its way into drinking water.

In March 1999, Gov. Davis signed an executive order banning MTBE in the state's gasoline by the end of 2002. The following month, California requested a waiver from the EPA's oxygenate requirement for gasoline.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced on June 12 that California's request for a waiver would be denied, prompting the state's lawsuit.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state's largest provider of treated drinking water, praised the lawsuit today.

"It's very gratifying to see Governor Gray Davis and the California Environmental Protection Agency pursue this issue, and we wish them every success," said Ronald Gastelum, president and chief executive officer of Metropolitan. "The longer the federal government forces the petroleum industry to include MTBE in our gasoline, the greater the threat to Southern California's drinking water quality."

"Just three weeks ago, Metropolitan co-hosted with Santa Monica a workshop at which we developed a draft action plan to prevent further pollution of Southern California's water supplies by MTBE," Gastelum added. "The possibility that Gov. Davis would challenge the EPA's decision in court was discussed at the workshop and encouraged. We certainly appreciate and applaud the governor's action."

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CENTRAL PARK LAKE CONTAMINATED BY POWER PLAN MERCURY

NEW YORK, New York, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have linked coal plant emissions to toxic levels of mercury at the bottom of New York's Central Park Lake.

Their study shows that the level of mercury in sediment at the bottom of Central Park Lake is at least 10 times the amount found in some industrial areas.

"The atmospheric input of mercury to the sediments is the highest I have ever seen. We know mercury is toxic, and we know it accumulates over time. The question is, is this acceptable?" said Richard Bopp, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Rensselaer and a leading authority on PCBs and other pollutants in the Hudson River, New York Harbor, and elsewhere.

A recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicted that the emission of hazardous air pollutants by coal fired utilities would increase 10 percent to 30 percent by the year 2010.

Bopp's team studied core samples of lake sediment dating back to the 1860s. After consulting historical records of coal consumption in the city, Bopp concluded that domestic coal fired stoves and furnaces, industrial fuel use, and coal burning power plants left much of the toxic residue.

The study showed that the highest atmospheric inputs of mercury in levels of sediment dated from the early 1900s, when coal use peaked in the New York City area.

Last December, the EPA reported the emission of mercury as the greatest health concern posed by coal burning. Coal fired plants in the United States emit an estimated 52 tons of mercury into the atmosphere per year.

The EPA believes a plausible link exists between the emission of mercury from coal fired utilities and the amount of mercury found in the air, soil and water. The ingestion of fish contaminated with mercury is thought to play an important rule in exposing humans to this toxic metal known to damage the kidneys, nervous system and brain.

"The potential for increased mercury in the environment depends, to a large extent, on emission controls. The level of emission control that is appropriate for coal burning power plants is a significant question that will have to be addressed," Bopp said.

An earlier study of the same samples, published by Bopp and colleagues in Environmental Science and Technology in 1999, concluded that most of the lead found in the Central Park Lake sediments came not from the use of leaded gasoline, as many scientists believed, but from the incineration of municipal solid waste.

The Central Park Lake study was funded through a Superfund Basic Research Grant to Mount Sinai Medical Center. The Rensselaer team worked with researchers from Columbia University and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

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FABRICANT BECOMES NEW EPA GENERAL COUNSEL

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - Robert Fabricant, a native of New Jersey, was sworn in last week as the General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Bob Fabricant has dedicated an entire career to practicing environmental law in the public and private sector," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "His legal expertise and impeccable judgement will help guide the EPA through a variety of environmental challenges. The agency - and the country - are lucky to have his service."

Fabricant was Chief Counsel to then New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman from 2000 to 2001 and Deputy Chief Counsel from 1998 to 2000. He also served in the Chief Counsel's office as Assistant Counsel from 1994 to 1996.

During all of these appointments, he was one of the principal advisors to Governor Whitman on environmental issues. He was in private practice in Trenton, New Jersey from 1996 to 1998.

Fabricant was nominated by President George W. Bush in February to be General Counsel of the EPA.

The Office of General Counsel provides legal service to all EPA programs and activities including opinions, counsel and litigation support and serves as legal advisor in the formulation and administration of the agency's policies and programs.

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WATERCRAFT PROJECTS TO BE SCRUTINIZED FOR MANATEE IMPACTS

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has released its final interim strategy for evaluating future watercraft access projects in Florida that may affect the endangered Florida manatee.

The interim strategy is intended to ensure that additional watercraft access facilities, marinas and slips can be permitted while still protecting manatees. The interim strategy incorporates Florida's increased law enforcement efforts to minimize manatee watercraft collisions, the most significant human cause of manatee death and injury.

"The state of Florida has taken the responsibility for ensuring adequate law enforcement personnel are on the water to enforce manatee speed zones," said Sam Hamilton, USFWS southeast regional director. "We applaud the state's leadership on manatee protection and are confident that these efforts will result in a significantly higher level of on the water manatee protection and law enforcement than the Service could have provided through its draft interim strategy."

The Florida Legislature has authorized an increase in state law enforcement personnel and funding in coastal counties where manatees have the highest number of interactions with watercraft.

Based on Florida's commitments and more than 2,000 public comments received on the draft interim strategy, the USFWS made several changes from its original proposal. The final interim strategy deletes a proposed requirement that permit applicants fund increased law enforcement efforts, if there is a lack of adequate law enforcement in their area.

The final interim strategy identifies measures that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should take prior to approving federal permits for watercraft access projects such as docks, boat ramps and marinas. Under the strategy, the USFWS will evaluate projects on a case by case basis and make recommendations to the Corps.

When evaluating a project, the USFWS must find that:

A copy of the final interim strategy, frequently asked questions, and a fact sheet are available at: http://verobeach.fws.gov/

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CAMPING BARRED TO PROTECT CALIFORNIA DESERT TORTOISES

EL CENTRO, California, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a proposed order to temporarily ban camping on about 25,600 acres of public land east of the Imperial Sand Dunes to protect desert tortoise habitat.

The area would not be closed to vehicles traveling on existing routes.

The BLM is implementing the closures as part of a settlement agreement reached in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, regarding the agency's failure to protect the endangered desert tortoise and other rare California desert species, as required under the Endangered Species Act.

The proposed closure areas involve public lands east of the town of Glamis. Private lands in this area would not be affected by the closure.

As specified in the settlement, the temporary closure would remain in effect until the BLM consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and signs a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert Coordinated Management Plan, scheduled to be completed in September 2002.

An environmental assessment of the proposed camping closure will be available for public review and comment through September 7, at: http://www.ca.blm.gov/cdd/lawsuit.html

Comments should be addressed to BLM's El Centro Field Office, 1661 East 4th Street, El Centro, California, 92243.

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AIRPORT EXPANSION HALTED TO ALLOW FURTHER ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY

MAMMOTH LAKES, California, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - A controversial airport expansion project in the eastern Sierra Nevada will get new scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), thanks to a strong nudge from environmental groups.

Under pressure from a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, California Wilderness Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council, the FAA has announced that it will delay a final decision about the potential environmental impacts of the proposed expansion of the Mammoth-Yosemite Airport, pending further FAA study.

In December 2000, the FAA issued a decision stating that the expansion would not have any significant environmental impacts. Prior to the lawsuit's filing, the FAA had refused to respond to inquiries from concerned environmental organizations and the California Attorney General's office about the finality of that decision.

Local proponents of the airport expansion claimed that the FAA had made a final decision and would be funding a major portion of the proposed expansion's costs. But last month, the FAA issued a statement saying that its December decision was not final, and that further studies will be required.

Last week, the environmental groups agreed to dismiss their lawsuit for the time being, allowing for reinstatement if the FAA's final decision does not address the full environmental consequences of the airport project.

"This is an important victory for the environment and residents of the Mammoth region," said Trent Orr lead attorney for Earthjustice. "We fully expect that the FAA will now fulfill its duties under the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] and prepare the required environmental review for the project."

The proposed airport expansion would convert a small private plane and commuter facility into a major regional airport, serving tens of thousands of tourists every year. Projected air traffic would increase the need for more facilities - hotels, condominiums, cabins, restaurants, shopping centers, rental car agencies, road upgrades, parking lots and traffic signals - to support the influx of visitors.

The result would be rapid growth in and around the small town of Mammoth Lakes, as well as thousands of new visitors to Yosemite National Park and several wilderness areas, exacerbating existing problems with overused facilities, air quality and traffic.

The project could also affect the habitat of endangered and threatened species in the area, including the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, Owens tui chub and bald eagle.

The environmental groups' lawsuit, filed May 15, challenged the FAA's failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the project's impacts.

"We brought suit because the potential for urban sprawl and damage to pristine natural areas had not been considered by FAA and in the local community," said Orr. "NEPA was designed to identify serious environmental problems and allow communities to make informed choices. FAA's December finding made a mockery of that process, but the agency appears to have realized its error."

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CORPORATE MANAGER TO SERVE AS DEPUTY INTERIOR SECRETARY

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton has appointed James Cason to serve as Associate Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The position is not subject to Senate confirmation.

"Jim will be a tremendous asset to our leadership team," Norton said. "He brings proven experience from both the private sector and government service. Jim will be invaluable in listening to all citizens to help conserve and protect our nation's public lands."

Cason was vice president of risk management for the Niagara Falls, New York based Unifrax Corporation, an international manufacturing firm specializing in energy saving products. Cason managed the corporation's health, safety and environmental quality program, property and casualty insurance program, and product liability litigation.

Cason worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as Canada's equivalent to the EPA, Environment Canadian.

Prior to that, Cason worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a manager for the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation from 1990 to 1993. He served as acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary of the Interior Department for Land and Minerals Management from 1985 to 1990.

From 1982 to 1985, he served as special assistant to the director of Interior's Bureau of Land Management.

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SNOWY PLOVER RECOVERY PLAN AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW

SACRAMENTO, California, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - Strategies for recovering the Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover are the subject of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service draft recovery plan now available for public review.

The Pacific coast population, which includes about 2,000 of the small shorebirds, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993.

Plovers nest on coastal sand spits, dune packed beaches, gravel bars, beach strands with little or no vegetation, open areas around estuaries and on beaches at river mouths and gravel bars from early March to the third week in July. Western snowy plovers are site faithful nesters, returning to successful nesting sites year after year.

The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover is threatened by human disturbance, loss of nesting habitat to development, encroachment of European beachgrass on nesting grounds and, at some sites, predation by crows, ravens, foxes and domestic dogs and cats. Natural factors, such as inclement weather, have also affected the quality and quantity of snowy plover habitat.

The draft recovery plan describes the status, current management, recovery objectives and criteria, and specific actions needed to remove the western snowy plover from the List of Endangered and Threatened Species. The plan proposes establishing working groups to assist in the development and implementation of management plans for each of six recovery units.

Other recommended actions necessary for the recovery of the western snowy plover include monitoring and managing breeding habitat and wintering and migration areas in a systematic way to maximize survival and productivity; developing mechanisms for long term management and protection of plovers and their habitat; undertaking scientific investigations to facilitate recovery efforts; and establishing an international conservation program with the Mexican government to protect snowy plovers and their habitats in Mexico.

If recovery measures succeed, the western snowy plover could be removed from the endangered species list as early as 2025, the USFWS says. The agency estimates that recovering the western snowy plover will cost at least $28.5 million.

The draft recovery plan is available at: http://www.r1.fws.gov

Comments can be submitted until December 12 to: Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825, or via Email: fw1wsprp@fws.gov

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COMPUTING GRANTS FUND CLIMATE, ENERGY RESEARCH

WASHINGTON, DC, August 15, 2001 (ENS) - The first awards under the new, $57 million Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program from the Department of Energy include research projects in climate modeling and energy.

SciDAC is an integrated program that will help create a new generation of scientific simulation codes. The codes will take full advantage of the extraordinary computing capabilities of terascale computers (computers capable of doing trillions of calculations per second) to address ever larger, more complex problems.

The program also includes research on improved mathematical and computing systems software that will allow these codes to use modern parallel computers. The program will also develop collaboratory software to enable scientists across the country to work together as a team, share data, and control scientific instruments from remote locations.

"This innovative program will help us to find new energy sources for the future, understand the effect of energy production on our environment and learn more about the fundamental nature of energy and matter," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "A major strength of many of the projects is a partnership between scientists at the Energy Department's national laboratories and universities."

Selected from over 150 proposals, the SciDAC activities include 23 large projects that will each receive $500,000 to $4 million per year for three to five years, and 27 smaller projects, each with funding of up to $500,000 per year for three years.

"These projects represent a significant change in the way we do computational research, with greater emphasis on integrated teams," said James Decker, acting director of the department's Office of Science. "Our strategy is to support coordinated efforts by the scientists working to solve complex problems in physics, chemistry and biology, and the applied mathematicians and computer scientists working to develop the computational tools required for that research."

Fourteen university projects will advance the science of climate simulation and prediction, using novel methods to simulate components of the climate system and work on the integrated models of the future climate. Scientists at the Argonne, Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories will collaborate to create advanced climate models using the latest computer technology, and turn current climate datasets into community resources available to all U.S. climate researchers.

Ten projects will address the areas of quantum chemistry and fluid dynamics, which are critical for modeling energy related chemical transformations such as combustion, catalysis and photochemical energy conversion. Five projects are focused on developing and improving the physics models needed for integrated simulations of plasma systems to advance fusion energy science.

For a complete list of SciDAC awards, principal investigators and project descriptions, visit: http://www.sc.doe.gov/