AmeriScan: August 22, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - In a memo to top agency officials sent last week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Whitman reaffirmed the agency's commitment to environmental justice and its integration into all programs and policies.

In the memo, Whitman said environmental justice means the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and incomes during the development, implementation and enforcement of all environmental laws and policies. Environmental justice also requires the meaningful involvement of all peoples in the decision making processes of the government, Whitman noted.

Whitman said environmental statutes provide many opportunities to address environmental risks and hazards in minority or low income communities.

"Application of these existing statutory provisions is an important part of this agency's effort to prevent those communities from being subject to disproportionately high and adverse impacts and environmental effects," Whitman wrote.

Fair treatment means that no group of people, including a racial, ethnic, or social economic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations, or the execution of federal, state, local and tribal programs and policies.

"Environmental justice is achieved when everyone, regardless of race, culture or income, enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work," Whitman wrote.

The Administrator stressed that the EPA would need to conduct the programs and activities that affect human health and the environment in a manner that ensures the fair treatment of all people, including minority populations and low income populations. She said the agency should ensure greater public participation in the EPA's development and implementation of environmental regulations and policies.

More information is available at:

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SACRAMENTO, California, August 21, 2001 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis helped dedicated a new section of freeway near Los Angeles on Monday, and vowed that the project would be the last of its kind.

The state will focus its transportation spending on mass transit options, such as buses and trains, instead of new roads, Davis said.

Under Governor Davis, a Democrat, California's spending on transportation has increased from $6.35 billion in fiscal year 1998-99 to $9.55 billion in the 2001-02 budget. Last year, the Davis administration initiated record investment in new transportation projects through the Traffic Congestion Relief Plan, which includes $260 million for local priority projects.

On Monday, Davis asked state taxpayers to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would permanently dedicate the entire gasoline sales tax to transportation.

"I'm asking all Californians to join me in supporting this historic measure on the March 2002 ballot. It will guarantee for the first time that the sales tax paid by motorists will be used to benefit motorists," Davis said. "If approved by the voters, it will provide more than $36 billion over the next 20 years to expand and upgrade commuter corridors across our state. That's a massive long term investment that's sorely needed."

Most of those dollars will go towards improving existing mass transit projects, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter train system, or to new initiatives including a proposed high speed rail line.

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OLYMPIA, Washington, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - At least 1.6 million wild chinook salmon fry died last spring after being stranded in the gravel by low water conditions along a 17 mile stretch of the Columbia River.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reports that mortality estimates for salmon fry in a section of the river downstream from Priest Rapids Dam are about 16 times greater than in the previous two years.

"Drought, together with fluctuations in water levels caused by dam operations, took a heavy toll on emerging mid-Columbia fall chinook salmon fry this year," said Rod Woodin, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator. "How those losses will be reflected in adult returns three and four years from now remains to be seen."

Woodin said low water conditions caused by this year's drought amplified the effect of fluctuations in water levels resulting from dam operations.

"Actually, fluctuations in water levels from dam operations were much less than in previous years," Woodin said. "The problem is that any variation during a low water year dewaters a much greater area than when the river is at a normal level."

Fry mortality monitoring on 17 miles of the Columbia River below Priest Rapids Dam is an integral part of the interagency Hanford Reach Juvenile Fall Chinook Protection Program. This year's monitoring was conducted in spring when emerging salmon fry are most susceptible to fluctuations in water levels.

Technicians walk the riverbanks to locate stranded fish. When water levels drop, they can find thousands of fry left high and dry along the riverbank or stranded in shallow pools where the water temperature often reaches lethal levels, said Paul Hoffarth, WDFW's lead biologist on the project.

"The monitoring crews try to salvage as many of them as they can, but that usually amounts to a small fraction of what's there," Hoffarth said.

Hoffarth noted that the loss of 1.6 million fry in the monitored area represents about seven percent of the year's total estimated fall chinook fry production. But that may account for only a small portion of the fry mortalities, he said.

"These estimates do not account for fry that die elsewhere in the 51 mile Hanford Reach or further down river," Hoffarth said. "This is clearly a tough year for juvenile fall chinook on the mid-Columbia River."

The Hanford Reach supports the largest wild fall chinook population in the main stem Columbia River and is a primary contributor to sport, commercial and tribal fisheries.

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ONA, Florida, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - To help reduce algae levels in Florida's Lake Okeechobee, a University of Florida (UF) researcher says ranchers can eliminate phosphorus fertilizer without reducing the healthy growth of forage grasses.

Jack Rechcigl, director of UF's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, said grasses used in beef and dairy cattle grazing fields are capable of using phosphorus found deep in the soil. Phosphorus in the grass that animals eat is naturally recycled, he added.

Rechcigl's research at UF's Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona resulted in a 1990 recommendation that ranchers not add phosphorus to bahaigrass fields. Findlay Pate, director of the Ona facility, said the change in fertilizing practices saves the Florida beef cattle industry about $10 million each year.

Eliminating phosphorus fertilizer will also help keep Lake Okeechobee water clear by limiting the algae's main food supply, Rechcigl said.

"We have found that the best way to control algae on lakes is to reduce the most limiting nutrient it needs," Rechcigl said. "In the case of Lake Okeechobee, that limiting nutrient is phosphorus."

While there are other sources for phosphorus found in the lake, Rechcigl said water managers believe runoff from pasture grasses can be best controlled. Their task was simplified when researchers discovered forage grasses used phosphorus located three feet below the soil surface, he said.

"Normally, when you sample soil in a field, you only test the first six inches, which generally is very low in phosphorus," Rechcigl said. "What people didn't realize is that these perennial grasses have roots that go deep enough to get phosphorus where it exists naturally."

Leaving phosphorus out of their fertilizer mix has resulted in cost savings for the Williamson Cattle Company, the Okeechobee area ranch where most of Rechcigl's research is being done.

"This is a practice that saves money and helps the environment at the same time," said Sonny Williamson, one of the ranch's owners. "Phosphorus in the lake comes from many areas other than agriculture but it's very true we have some problem with agricultural phosphorus runoff. Obviously, if you can reduce phosphorus fertilizer or eliminate it, that's a win-win because it costs less money and it also helps solve the problem."

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NEW YORK, New York, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program, accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to conduct forest management certifications, has suspended Perum Perhutani's teak plantation certificates.

The suspension affects the forest districts of Cepu, Kebonharjo, Kendal and Madiun on the island of Java, Indonesia. Perum Perhutani, first certified by SmartWood in November 1990, is the principal plantation forestry operation on Java.

The suspension is based on the company's noncompliance with the certification conditions based on FSC principles and criteria as well as the SmartWood standards. SmartWood believes that the long term sustainability of the plantation resources is at a serious risk.

The suspension will become effective on October 20. It will affect at least 36 companies that buy teak from Perum Perhutani for use in making FSC certified products such as garden furniture.

Perhutani manages about two million hectares (more than 4.9 million acres) of plantations in 54 forest management districts (KPH), mostly in teak. At the time of the certification suspension, the FSC certified districts comprised about five percent of the total area owned by the company.

SmartWood annual audits are conducted in cooperation with independent consulting auditors and local Indonesian nongovernmental organizations. The results from the most recent audit, in April 2001, will be available on the SmartWood Web site in the next 15 days.

The decision to suspend Perhutani's certificate is based on the audits of the four Perhutani management districts.

In countries all over the world, unsustainable commercial forestry operations are adversely affecting both biological and social environments. Poor management of forests often results in unsustainable exploitation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and threats to local communities' economic future.

FSC certification is an effective tool to combat these problems, and to grant recognition to those companies, forest landowners and communities that are managing their forests responsibly.

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - Tiny unmanned planes now flying over Florida are helping Colorado researchers to assess storms and hurricanes.

Four miniature unmanned airplanes leased by University of Colorado at Boulder researchers and equipped with sophisticated meteorlogical instruments are buzzing through storms near Jacksonville, as faculty and students await a hurricane.


An artist's view of an aerosonde flying into the eye of a cyclone (Photo © Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft)
Known as aerosondes, the diminutive 30 pound planes are helping researchers monitor conditions like temperature, humidity and wind speed, said CU-Boulder aerospace engineering professor Judith Curry. The tiny planes are also packing lightweight video cameras to help researchers understand sea surface changes during tropical storms.

The flights, which began August 16, will run through late September, Curry said.

Although the aerospace engineering department owns three of the $35,000 planes, they are used only for research and development on campus. The four planes now flying in Florida are leased from Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft, Inc.

"We don't know much about sea-surface exchange with the atmosphere during tropical storms, especially the effect of the disturbed, foamy activity at the surface," said Curry, one of two CU-Boulder principal investigators on the project.

While huge DC-8 aircraft will by flying over the hurricanes as part of a multi-agency project coordinated by NASA, the CU aerosondes will be flying right into the middle of the massive storms, said Curry. Because they can fly up to 1,500 miles on a gallon of fuel, the aerosondes may be flying missions as long as 24 hours, she added.

"We will be sending information from the aerosonde planes through a satellite system that will deliver it to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which will be a first," Curry said.

The aerosondes most were also used by CU-Boulder faculty and students to map coastal sea ice changes, warming and coastal erosion in the Arctic in April 2001.

CU-Boulder's aerosonde missions are expected to continue until 2006 with funding from the National Science Foundation. The planes are produced by Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft with facilities in Victoria, Australia and Boulder.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $150,000 to The New Buildings Institute to study the energy efficiency of newly constructed commercial buildings.

The study will help determine if the buildings are as efficient as their intended design.

The Institute will compare new constructed buildings to existing, top rated energy efficient buildings using the Energy Star® rating system as a benchmark. The Energy Star® rating system provides an easy way to compare a buildings' energy performance to that of similar buildings throughout the United States.

For commercial buildings, energy performance is rated on a one to 100 scale where a score of 50 signifies energy performance better than 50 percent of similar buildings. Benchmarking provides the foundation for fundamental property management decisions and is changing the building industry's perception of energy performance, the EPA says.

The New Buildings Institute will use existing data from energy utility bills to study the difference between design intent and actual energy efficiency in buildings. The study will look at actual and anticipated energy consumption of new buildings.

The findings of this study could help provide insight for making design decisions that affect energy performance and influence the interpretation of energy codes for commercial building design. The findings could also help state, local, and private sector programs benefit from knowing the actual, rather than perceived, differences between design intent and energy performance in commercial buildings.

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SILVER SPRING, Maryland, August 22, 2001 (ENS) - As she prepares to depart for the Miss America Pageant, The Fund for Animals has asked Kelly Lynn Glorioso, the newly crowned Miss Maryland, not to accept a red fox fur coat offered by Maryland fur trappers.

In a recent letter, Norm Phelps, program coordinator for The Fund for Animals, spoke of "the fear, suffering, and death that are stitched into every seam" of a fur coat, and asked Glorioso "not to become a spokesperson for cruelty by accepting or appearing in a garment made from the skins of animals who died in terror and agony."

While 89 foreign countries and seven states have banned the steel jawed leghold trap, the device is still legal in Maryland. Animals caught in traps suffer broken bones, lacerations, joint dislocations and other injuries.

The animals may then die of infection, parasites or blood loss before being retrieved by trappers. If they are still alive when the trapper arrives, the trappers often club or stomp the animals to death to avoid damaging the pelt with a gunshot, the Fund for Animals says.

Some animals may chew off their own legs in their attempts to escape.

"Fur traps are land mines for animals," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The Fund for Animals. "They indiscriminately kill and maim any animal who steps in the trap, including protected wildlife, endangered species, and family dogs and cats."

The first resident of The Fund for Animals' Black Beauty Ranch, a 1,400 acre sanctuary in Texas, was an orange and white kitten who dragged herself to the ranch house with a steel jawed leghold trap grasping her left front leg. The leg had to be amputated.

Heidi Prescott, national director of The Fund for Animals, pointed out that "Top fashion lines like Oleg Cassini and Babyphat feature faux fur coats that are every bit as glamorous as animal fur. Anyone who wears animal fur today might as well wear a sign that tells the world, 'I support cruelty to animals.'"

The Fund for Animals is a national animal protection organization founded by author and humanitarian Cleveland Amory, with 200,000 members and supporters nationwide, including 4,000 in Maryland.