AmeriScan: August 23, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - Citing growing restrictions on its operations, weapons development and training, the U.S. Navy will soon seek Congressional exemption from compliance with several environmental laws, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"The Navy's environmental philosophy is 'damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,'" commented PEER general counsel Dan Meyer, a former Navy officer. "The Navy's senior command does not appreciate that defense of the nation does not demand despoliation of our natural resources."

In recent briefings and position papers, Navy officials contend "the cumulative impact of compliance [with applicable environmental laws] can have severe to extreme consequences on operational readiness."

Present and future limitations on firing live explosives, night training, operations in marine sanctuaries and emerging weapon systems, such as its new Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar, present potential obstacles to the Navy's mission.

The PEER report says that the Navy objects to actions to protect threatened and endangered species by federal wildlife protection agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service because they take a "precautionary approach" toward protecting sea life. The Navy argues that its operations should not be hampered by "lack of quality data" and "limited scientific understanding" of the vulnerability of marine mammals, sea turtles and other aquatic life, PEER says.

Despite recommendations that Navy contractors "consider, wherever practical, using closed environments (e.g. quarries, catch ponds) for the testing of ordnance and other live fire testing" the Navy resists adopting any possible changes in its own operations to avoid environmental impacts, PEER charges. Instead, the Navy documents outline a series of statutory exemptions that the Navy intends to seek from the Endangered Species Act.

"We cannot simply stand by while the military or anyone else attempts to cut and shred the fabric of our nation's environmental laws, especially one that was so painstakingly crafted by past generations," said Brock Evans, a former marine and executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.

Another document lists "seven regulatory programs that impact DOD [Department of Defense] operations, training and testing in the marine environment in order of their severity" starting with the Marine Mammal Protection Act followed by the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (protecting fish habitat) and two executive orders by former President Bill Clinton on coral reefs and marine protected areas.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - Supporters of Utah wilderness will gather at the Salt Lake executive airport Saturday morning to express the growing support for America's Redrock Wilderness Act, a bill that would protect as wilderness nine million acres of public land in Utah.

The rally by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and other environmental activists will coincide with the arrival of Vice President Dick Cheney, whose public lands energy policy would have devastating consequences for the pristine desert environments of southern Utah.

Wilderness advocates will be equipped with signs, banners, kazoos, and a 14 foot long, 12 foot high inflatable oil derrick will welcome the vice president.

"America's Red Rock Wilderness Act," which proposes to designate more than nine million acres of public land in Utah as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress in April.

Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced the Senate version of the bill, and Representative Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat, introduced the House version.

"The Red Rock Wilderness is already owned by all the people of the United States and should be considered a national treasure like the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty," said Hinchey on introducing the bill. "This terrain cannot bear much use or development, and the treasures it holds are too rare and special to be exploited. These lands and the wildlife that inhabit them deserve the protection that permanent wilderness designation would offer."

President George W. Bush has instructed the Departments of Interior and Energy to investigate the possibility of opening more public lands, including the Red Rock Desert, to oil and gas exploration.

America's Red Rock Wilderness Act would prohibit the construction of new roads and the use of motorized vehicles in wilderness areas except in emergency situations. The bill has a record number of original cosponsors - 144 in the House and 12 in the Senate.

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will provide $2 million in financial assistance to provide training for residents in communities impacted by brownfields, Administrator Christie Whitman announced today.

Brownfields are abandoned, contaminated industrial sites. Many developers hesitate to purchase and redevelop brownfields due to concerns about cleanup costs.

The EPA pilot project, called the Brownfields Job Training and Development Demonstration Pilots, will facilitate cleanup of brownfields sites contaminated with hazardous substances and will also prepare trainees for future employment in the environmental field. The pilot projects must prepare trainees in activities that can be applied to a cleanup employing an alternative or innovative treatment technology.

The agency expects to select up to 10 pilot projects by December.

"We are not only cleaning up and redeveloping hazardous sites, but training new workers in the fight to make our communities cleaner and safer," Whitman said. "The Bush Administration has made the cleanup and redevelopment of brownfields a top environmental goal. This is a perfect example of the government working with local communities to ensure a safer, cleaner future for our children."

Each selected pilot will receive up to $200,000 over two years. The funds will be used to build partnerships between community groups, job training organizations, employers, investors, lenders, developers and other affected parties to provide training for residents in communities impacted by brownfields.

The deadline for submitting proposals for the pilots is October 19. More information is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will provide $4 million in financial assistance to clean up contamination from leaking underground storage tanks around the nation.

The agency expects to select up to 40 pilot projects to help states and cities clean up these properties and encourage their redevelopment.

"These sites have caused problems that in many cases have very costly solutions. With this pilot money, recipients will be able to accelerate cleanup and return properties to viable use," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Fostering clean up at these sites not only restores the land but helps protect our water resources from petroleum contamination. The new pilot program is similar to our Brownfields initiatives in that it can help revitalize industrial areas and communities."

While the Brownfields program, which cleans up contaminated industrial sites, has been very successful, it has been unable to address abandoned petroleum tanks, Whitman explained. These new pilot projects will help bridge that gap.

The pilot project, called USTfields, involves abandoned or under used industrial and commercial properties with perceived or actual contamination from petroleum that has leaked from underground storage tanks (USTs).

The EPA is inviting states, territories and tribes as well as eligible intertribal consortia to compete for these pilots. Each selected pilot will receive up to $100,000 in Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund monies.

The deadline for submitting proposals for the USTfields Pilots is October 22. The announcement of the selected pilots will take place by the end of the year.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of California conservation groups filed a motion today to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the critical habitat designation for the California red legged frog.

On June 8, The Home Builders Association of Northern California and other development interests filed suit in Washington, DC to overturn the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for the red legged frog under the Endangered Species Act. The designation protects watersheds in 28 counties, and many of the remaining freshwater streams and wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coast Ranges.

It also includes some of the last remaining wetlands in California, 90 percent of which have already been destroyed.

Critical habitat for this amphibian, believed to have inspired Mark Twain's, "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was established in a March 13, 2001 decision after a series of lengthy public hearings and scientific review. Lawyers with Earthjustice filed for intervention on behalf of conservation groups in federal court in Washington, DC, seeking to ensure that the famous frog will get a fair hearing, and requesting the court to transfer the case to California.

The intervention was filed on behalf of the Jumping Frog Research Institute, the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, the Pacific Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club.

"This lawsuit is an assault by powerful development interests to pave over the streams and wetlands that provide clean water for Californians and are the last remaining habitat for Twain's frog," said Bruce Nilles, lead attorney for Earthjustice. "The Home Builders have run to the other side of the country to try to persuade a Washington DC judge to let their bulldozers roll in California. By intervening, we seek to defend the streams and wetlands needed by frogs and people, and bring this case back to California, into the view of the people whose lives are most affected by the designation - the residents of California."

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NEWPORT, Oregon, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - A device placed on the Pacific Ocean floor by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Oregon State University has provided the first record of a deep submarine volcanic eruption.

The device survived after being engulfed by a lava flow during a 1998 eruption of the Axial volcano, along the Juan de Fuca Ridge sea floor, located about 300 miles off of Cannon Beach, Oregon.

The scientists placed the monitoring device on the sea floor in October 1997 as part of the Vents Program, seeking to gather data about the exchange of heat and chemicals between the earth's interior and the ocean bed. The researchers intended to place the Volcanic System Monitor (VSM) on what was thought to be the magma center, but "we never expected to get this close a look at the eruptive process," said NOAA scientist Christopher Fox.

The device was engulfed by lava in 1998, and retrieved with little damage in 1999. It has provided data on the dynamics of deep ocean volcanic eruption including information on the lava flow, pressure and temperature.

In an article in the August 16 issue of the journal "Nature," NOAA scientists Fox and Robert Embley, and William Chadwick of Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, describe in detail the results obtained from this serendipitous occurrence.

Fox said little is known about deep sea eruptions because only in the last decade have people been able to detect them, and none has ever been witnessed.

"The data we report here, recorded by the VSM instrument caught in the 1998 lava flow at Axial volcano, were obtained by fortuitous circumstance. The instrument was simply in the right place at the right time, with the right sensors and happened to survive the eruption," said Fox.

More information is available at:

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FARMINGDALE, New Jersey, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued several Notices of Violation in connection with improper efforts to dispose of radioactive waste removed from a New Jersey mental health facility in 1997.

Among those receiving notices are the center, the state official who authorized the incorrect classification of the material, a Pennsylvania firm hired to dispose of the waste and the president of that company.

In October 1997, the NRC was notified that a tritium exit sign had been broken by a patient at the Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center, located in Farmingdale and operated by the New Jersey Department of Human Services. The sign held tritium, a radioactive isotope used to illuminate the device.

Tritium releases a weak form of radiation and is not considered hazardous as long as it is contained. When the sign was ruptured, the release of the tritium created extensive contamination that required almost 60 barrels to clean up and remove.

Following an NRC inspection at the center, the NRC Office of Investigations looked at whether the material had been disposed of in a proper manner. The Office of Investigations determined that the chief of the Bureau of Environmental Compliance for the New Jersey Department of Human Services had "deliberately and inappropriately" classified the waste as medical waste.

The Office of Investigations also learned that the firm hired by New Jersey to dispose of the waste, SMI East Coast Medical Waste Inc., was not authorized to handle such material. Despite this fact, SMI removed from Arthur Brisbane a barrel holding the broken exit sign, which contained about 12 curies of tritium, and stored it at its facility awaiting disposal.

SMI also removed several other barrels containing contaminated objects and shipped them to a medical waste incinerator in South Carolina not authorized to accept radioactive material. The waste was retrieved before being burned there.

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REHOVOT, Israel, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - Brittlestars, a relative of starfish, use crystal lenses to spot approaching predators, a unique visual system which is the first of its kind to be discovered in animals inhabiting the earth today.

Brittlestars of the species Ophiocoma wendtii form crystal lenses in their skeletons, reveals a study reported in today's issue of the journal "Nature." The discovery is a result of a collaborative study conducted by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, from Bell Laboratories/Lucent Technologies in New Jersey, and from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in Los Angeles, California.

Brittlestars, also known as serpent stars, are marine invertebrates that have five thin long arms on a small, disk shaped body. They are echinoderms, a group of creatures which also includes sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish, and several other classes of marine animals.

Over the past few years, Professor Lia Addadi, dean of the Weizmann Institute's Chemistry Faculty, and Professor Steve Weiner, of the Institute's Structural Biology Department, have conducted a series of studies examining ways in which animals build their skeletons. The scientists have revealed that animals produce different types of proteins, some of which control crystal formation.

The crystals allow the brittlestars to detect shadows and escape into dark crevices when predators approach. The arrays of spherical crystal structures on the surface of the animals' outer skeleton serve as lenses that transmit light to the brittlestar's nervous system.

Addadi and Weiner, together with their then graduate student, Joanna Aizenberg, who now works at Bell Laboratories, began to study the phenomenon. They discovered that each skeletal element with its hundreds of lenses is a single calcite crystal; the crystal's optic axis is perpendicular to the plane of the lens array.

This means that the calcite lens array is capable of transmitting light without splitting it in different directions. The calcite crystals work somewhat like the lens of the human eye - concentrating the light at a focal point where it can activate nerve cells which tell the brittlestars it is time to move.

This type of visual system has never before been described in animals living on our planet today, but Professor Weiner notes that calcite crystals were also used in the compound eyes of trilobites, the now extinct marine animals that inhabited the earth some 350 million years ago.

In their "Nature" report, the scientists conclude: "The demonstrated use of calcite by brittlestars, both as an optical element and as a mechanical support, illustrates the remarkable ability of organisms, through the process of evolution, to optimize one material for several functions, and provides new ideas for the fabrication of 'smart' materials."

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama, August 23, 2001 (ENS) - Operation Trash Cam, a pilot project by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), will help the agency identify people who are creating, or contributing to, unauthorized dumps.

The Alabama Forestry Association has provided video equipment used as a part of Operation Trash Cam in a cooperative effort with ADEM. Unauthorized dumps are often located on timberland, and can create considerable problems for landowners faced with cleaning up dumps created by others.

The battery powered video cameras and recording units are designed to be concealed. ADEM personnel will install the equipment at known dumpsites. The cameras are fitted with motion detectors that will record activity at the site.

Videotapes from TrashCam will then be used to identify those who are dumping illegally through automobile license plate or other means of visual identification. The ADEM will follow up the surveillance by taking enforcement actions that may include fines and requirements to clean up the dumps.

Unauthorized dumps serve as breeding grounds for rats, flies, roaches and mosquitoes. They can also affect water quality when located near a stream, river or lake.

"Anyone in Alabama who is dumping trash illegally should think twice about it, because they may have heir actions recorded on videotape," said ADEM director Jim Warr. "We appreciate the cooperation of the Alabama Forestry Association in purchasing the equipment to be used in Operation Trash Cam."

The state environmental agency estimates that there are about 100 unauthorized dumps in each of Alabama's 67 counties.