AmeriScan: August 7, 2002

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U.S. Pledges $500 Million for Global Fund

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - The United States has pledged to spend $500 million over the next four years to help developing countries mitigate environmental problems with potential global impacts.

At talks that ended today in Washington DC, the U.S. pledged to boost its contribution to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) by 16 percent, from $430 million to $500 million. The money from the U.S., the largest contributor to the GEF, will leverage about $2.2 billion in total new donor contributions under a complex burden sharing formula between all the donor countries.

"President Bush wants to ensure that the Global Environmental Facility has the funding it needs to meet its program priorities and the policies in place to use those funds effectively," said John Taylor, under secretary of the Treasury. "This pledge, and the policy reforms and performance targets that have been agreed by donors, are vitally important steps forward in meeting these critical objectives."

The U.S. pledge includes $107.5 million per year for each of the four years, plus another $70 million in the fourth year if the GEF meets a set of performance measurements agreed by donors. In addition, the Administration is requesting $70.3 million from Congress each year for the next three years to pay off U.S. arrears accumulated during the previous replenishment period.

"The GEF is one of the most effective financial tools available to combat environmental degradation around the world. By agreeing to increase its support, the United States is joining the rest of the world in taking an important step forward for the global environment," said Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the U.S.

Administered by the World Bank and the United Nations, the GEF was created in 1991 to help developing countries conserve their biological diversity and combat environmental threats. Since then, it has financed 680 projects in more than 150 countries.

Other donor countries agree on the need to strengthen the GEF but have been held back, under the terms of a burden sharing arrangement, from raising their contributions unless the U.S. also agreed to increase its share.

"Under the burden sharing formula, every dollar the U.S. contributes leverages four dollars more from other donors," explained Brooks Yeager, WWF's vice president for global threats. "Thus the U.S. increase of $70 million actually means $350 million more for the GEF when the matching contributions are added."

Donor countries meet every four years to replenish the GEF and set spending levels for the next funding cycle. Because the GEF has been assigned the additional responsibilities of dealing with land degradation and phasing out toxic chemicals, this year most donor states wanted to increase funding for the next four year cycle to at least $2.7 billion.

The Bush Administration's initial reluctance to consider an increase in the U.S. contribution would have capped funding at its present $2.2 billion level.

The GEF funds projects that promote clean and efficient energy use, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation, cleaning up international waters and phasing out ozone depleting chemicals. New focal areas to be included in future years will help combat persistent organic pollutants, land degradation, desertification and deforestation in some of the world's poorest countries.

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Report: Poor Enforcement Leads to Water Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - Almost 30 percent of the nation's largest industrial, municipal and federal facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at least once during a recent 15 month period, a new report concludes.

"Permit to Pollute: How the Government's Lax Enforcement of the Clean Water Act is Poisoning Our Waters" describes shortcomings in the monitoring of water pollution and efforts to deter polluters. The study's authors at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) say the report points out the folly of Bush administration proposals to slash the enforcement budget at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"It is outrageous that the Bush Administration is proposing to slash enforcement budgets when nearly 30 percent of polluting facilities are breaking the law," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan. "With widespread violations of the law, this is no time for the Bush administration to take cops off the beat."

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained and analyzed the behavior of major facilities nationwide by reviewing violations of the Clean Water Act between January 2000 and March 2001, as recorded in the EPA's Permit Compliance System database.

The group found that 134 major facilities were in what the Act defines as "significant noncompliance" during the entire 15 month period.

The goal of the Clean Water Act was to make U.S. waterways fishable and swimmable by 1983, and to achieve zero discharge of pollutants to waterways by 1985. However, according to the most recent EPA data, 40 percent of U.S. surface waters do not meet the fishable and swimmable standard.

The U.S. PIRG report includes several recommendations to help bring about consistent compliance with federal permits and move toward the zero discharge goals of the Clean Water Act:

Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, has introduced legislation (HR 5079) that would accomplish many of these recommendations. Senator Jon Corzine, also a Democrat of New Jersey, is expected to introduce similar legislation this fall.

"As we near the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we urge Congress and the President to listen to the public's demands for clean water," concluded Caplan. "The administration's proposed cuts to EPA's enforcement budget take us in the wrong direction at the wrong time."

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Appeals Court Supports Plutonium Shipments

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - A federal appeals court has ruled that the Department of Energy (DOE) may continue to ship plutonium to South Carolina for conversion to mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

The three judge panel from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges' appeal of a lower court ruling allowing the shipments to proceed. The judges' ruling was unanimous.

"We are pleased that the court (4th Circuit Court of Appeals) affirmed the lower court's ruling today which said that DOE's decisionmaking and actions on this matter complied with the law," said DOE spokesperson Joe Davis. "This Administration is committed to ensuring America's national security and the security of the people of South Carolina are maintained by proceeding with a program to dispose of weapons grade plutonium in a safe and responsible manner."

On Tuesday, Hodges vowed to take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This weapons grade plutonium is a threat to the health and safety of our state," Hodges said. The governor said he plans to prepare a brief requesting that the Supreme Court hear the case.

The DOE intends to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium by the end of 2019, through the conversion of the material to MOX fuel for use in commercial nuclear power reactors. The plutonium, pure enough to be used in nuclear weapons, is now located at Rocky Flats, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and at the PANTEX Facility in Amarillo, Texas.

About 76 trailer loads of plutonium are expected to be shipped from Rocky Flats alone. The plutonium would be treated at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, in an as yet unbuilt conversion plant.

But the DOE's MOX program has been plagued by escalating costs, legal challenges and delays. In February, Duke Power, the utility selected to use the MOX fuel in its McGuire and Catawba reactors, testified before a Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceeding that "the future use of MOX fuel at McGuire and Catawba reactors is not a certainty. Substantial uncertainties and contingencies continued to surround the program."

Governor Hodges, a Democrat, has argued that the DOE has not done sufficient environmental studies to ensure that processing the plutonium into MOX would be safe, or that storing the plutonium in South Carolina - as might happen in the MOX program is terminated - would not harm the public or the environment.

The appeals court judges disagreed. "We are satisfied that the DOE took a 'hard look' at the environmental consequences," of shipping and treating the plutonium, the judges ruled, calling the DOE's plans "neither arbitrary nor capricious."

Hodges said the federal government has promised not to store the plutonium in his state, where it would be processed, but has failed to make a legally binding pledge. He is demanding a court decree enforcing the federal government's promise.

Critics of the MOX fuel proposal charge that burning MOX in nuclear reactors increases the public health risks from nuclear accidents, particularly when the reactors were not originally designed to burn MOX fuel.

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DOE Speeds Up Oak Ridge Cleanup

OAK RIDGE, Tennessee, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - Federal and state officials have signed an agreement to accelerate environmental cleanup at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge facilities.

The Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state of Tennessee officials crafted the Oak Ridge Accelerated Cleanup Plan, laying out the remaining actions needed to finalize accelerated cleanup plans and establishing specific milestones for work to be completed in the next three years.

The Accelerated Cleanup Plan supplements a letter of intent signed May 14, detailing the DOE's plans to accelerate cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation. Facilities at Oak Ridge were used to build and test the radioactive components of nuclear weapons until the mid-1990s.

"This agreement builds on DOE's commitment embodied by the letter of iIntent to work with states and other regulatory agencies to reduce health risks and expedite environmental cleanup," said Jessie Roberson, assistant secretary for environmental management at the DOE. "With the continued support of EPA and Tennessee, we have a clear path forward for accelerating risk reduction in Oak Ridge."

Under the agreement, the partners will close the East Tennessee Technology Park, a former gaseous diffusion plant, by 2008. Remaining environmental cleanup at Oak Ridge will be completed by 2015.

Some of the major activities to be completed in the next three years include the following:

The DOE is now finalizing an implementation plan that contains more detailed information about the accelerated cleanup initiatives. That plan, along with the Oak Ridge Accelerated Cleanup Plan Agreement, can be viewed at: http://www.oakridge.doe.gov/newpages.html

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Drugs in Waterways May Harm Zooplankton

TUCSON, Arizona, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - The overuse of antibiotics and other drugs may be harming zooplankton, tiny organisms that support the health of all freshwater ecosystems.

"Pharmaceuticals can be detected in many surface water streams and lakes, yet we know little about how these strongly biologically active chemicals affect the ecology of aquatic organisms," said Stanley Dodson, a zoologist specializing in freshwater ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This pollution, argues Colleen Flaherty, a UW-Madison zoologist, has direct ties to humans, either through the improper disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals or through the ingestion of the drugs.

"Up to 80 percent of drugs taken by humans and domesticated animals can be excreted in their biologically active form," Flaherty explained. This means that the antibiotics, antidepressants and anti-inflammatory pills that humans take or throw out can end up polluting the environment and harming the organisms that live in it.

Flaherty's research is the first to look at the effects of common prescription drugs on Daphnia, a zooplankton that is integral to freshwater ecosystems. She will present findings from her study on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Tucson.

"Daphnia play a key ecological role in freshwater sources," Flaherty said. "They are an intermediate organism in these ecosystems - they eat the algae and are eaten by the fish. If something happens to Daphnia, it could affect both the algae and the fish populations."

To determine the influence of pharmaceuticals on this key freshwater species, Flaherty tested Daphnia's biological response to drugs that have been found in European and U.S. waters, including cholesterol lowering clofibric acid, an antidepressant called fluoxetine, and five antibiotics.

Flaherty performed short and long term studies to find out what happens to a female Daphnia and her offspring when exposed to a particular drug. The effects she found varied.

In the short term studies, the antibiotics and cholesterol drug at concentrations of just 10 parts per billion appear to stunt growth and result in more male offspring.

In the long term studies, these differences were diminished: offspring exposed to the antibiotics tended to have longer lifespans, while those exposed to the cholesterol lowering drug showed no apparent effects.

Exposure to the antidepressant produced no differences in the shorter trials, but did result in a greater number of offspring in the longer studies.

"When Daphnia were exposed to a single pharmaceutical throughout their entire [30 day] life span, as in the long term studies, they seemed to become acclimated to the polluted environment," Flaherty said.

But, Flaherty pointed out, Daphnia swim in waters tainted with not just one drug, but many.

"Some of these drugs may not have significant effects by themselves," she said, "but, when you combine them in a 'pharmaceutical cocktail,' the effects can be lethal."

When Flaherty exposed the organisms to a combination of the cholesterol drug and the antidepressant during the short term studies, up to 90 percent of them died. Their offspring were more likely to be female, and to have deformities that hinder swimming.

"I never expected that two drugs that had virtually no individual effects could be so lethal when combined," Flaherty said.

Because of these findings, Flaherty argues that scientists must look at not just one chemical, but combinations of them, to understand the ecological effects of pharmaceuticals or other manmade chemicals on freshwater ecosystems.

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Planned Lawsuit Seeks Turtle Protections

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups plans to file suit to force the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to require shrimp fishing vessels to install devices on their nets that will let even the largest sea turtles escape.

The groups filed a formal, 60 day notice of intent to sue today, seeking new regulations from NMFS that would require shrimp nets to include turtle exclusion devices (TEDs) to allow endangered and threatened sea turtles to escape drowning. The federal government already requires shrimping vessels to use TEDs to protect sea turtles, but larger turtles cannot fit through the TED openings, and so may become trapped and drown.

Ten months ago, NMFS proposed a rule to require larger TED openings, but so far, the agency has not issued a final regulation to implement the change.

"The government has known since at least 1999 that the openings currently required on TEDs are too small to protect larger sea turtles such as leatherbacks and loggerheads," said Monica Goldberg, senior attorney for Oceana. "We are prepared to sue if necessary to save these endangered and threatened animals, but we would prefer that the agency stop stalling and issue these long overdue rules."

Oceana, an international environmental organization dedicated to ocean protection, joined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP), the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Defenders of Wildlife in signing the letter of intent to sue.

"A record number of large loggerhead sea turtles washed up dead on beaches in Georgia this year, partly because shrimp vessels were using TEDs with openings that are too small," pointed out Dr. Bette Stallman, wildlife scientist at the HSUS.

"Many stranded turtles were egg bearing females, probably on their way to nest," added Todd Steiner, director of the STRP. "Countless more sea turtles undoubtedly drowned and did not wash up onto the beaches. This is a serious problem and we know how to fix it."

Requiring larger TED openings will not impose "significant economic burdens" on fishers, the groups argue. Many shrimpers in Georgia have used TEDs with larger openings for years with minimal shrimp loss, they note.

Data from NMFS suggest that properly installed and operated TEDs with larger openings lose between zero and two percent of the shrimp caught. Many shrimpers could alter the nets on their own at a cost of less than $20 per net. For those who must buy new equipment, the costs range from $45 to $200.

"Many shrimpers already use TEDs with larger openings, and they should be required in all areas," said Brendan Cummings, attorney for the CBD. "A comprehensive regulation would eliminate the need for costly shrimp fishery closures and reactive emergency rules, which NMFS now uses after large numbers of sea turtles wash up dead on the beaches."

Carroll Muffett, director of international programs for Defenders of Wildlife, noted that under the InterAmerican Sea Turtle Convention, the United States has already committed to promoting the protection of sea turtles based on the "best available science."

"The best available science is absolutely clear," said Muffett. "TED openings must be larger, or sea turtles will continue spiraling toward extinction."

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Hybrid Vehicles For Rent at National Airport

WASHINGTON, DC, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - Visitors to the nation's capital can now rent environmentally friendly hybrid gasoline-electric cars - provided they fly into Reagan National Airport.

EV Rental Cars, the only car rental company in the United States to offer such hybrid vehicles, now boasts a fleet of 20 new Honda Civic hybrid-electric vehicles at Budget Rent a Car's Reagan National Airport rental location.

"For the business traveler concerned about fuel economy, energy security, and perhaps the condition of the environment, we believe there is a way to travel that is both economical and environmentally responsible," said Jeff Pink, chief executive officer of EV Rental Cars.

The Honda Civic Hybrid is one of three hybrid-electric models available for rent from EV Rental Cars, joining the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Also available at EV Rental Cars' Washington, DC location is the natural gas powered Honda Civic GX.

EV Rental Cars will add 70 additional hybrid-electric vehicles to its Southern California fleet at Los Angeles International Airport later this summer.

"We are very proud to continue our partnership with Honda, and are honored that our company can now provide Honda's newest fuel efficient vehicle in the nation's capital at a time when lawmakers are devising new energy initiatives," Pink said.

The 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid - the first mainstream vehicle sold in North America equipped with a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain - gets about 46 miles per gallon (mpg) in city driving, and 51 mpg in highway driving, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Civic Hybrid can travel for about 650 miles on a tank of gas.

The 2003 Civic Hybrid uses Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, employing a four cylinder gasoline engine coupled with a high output electric motor to increase performance and fuel efficiency. The system's compact nickel-metal-hydride battery module is recharged during braking and deceleration. As a result, the Civic Hybrid never needs to be plugged in.

"Introducing the Civic Hybrid to Washington, DC with EV Rental Cars is part of Honda's continued commitment to the environment," said Stephen Ellis, advanced technology vehicles manager for American Honda. "Every Civic coupe and sedan, including the hybrid, qualifies as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV). Offering the vehicles for rent is a great way to encourage consumers to try the cars in everyday driving conditions."

EV Rental Cars founded its rental program in December 1998 with 11 electric cars, including primarily General Motors EV1, Honda's EV Plus, and Toyota's RAV4 EV, at Los Angeles International Airport. Since then, the fleet has grown to some 400 environmental cars at 14 airport locations around the country, including San Francisco, California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"Making the highly efficient hybrid-electric Honda Civic available to our customers is the patriotic thing to do," Pink said. "Offering the Civic hybrid will provide an opportunity for American business and vacation travelers to directly reduce our nation's dependence on imported oil."

EV Rental Cars operates exclusively at Budget Rent a Car locations. The company says this joint effort has eliminated more than 40 tons of smog forming air pollutants by renting to more than 70,000 consumers, who have put more than 8.5 million miles on the fleet. EV Rental Cars' customers have used more than 220,000 gallons less gasoline than they would have by driving conventional rental vehicles.

More information is available at: http://www.evrental.com

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Arkansas Bottomlands Will Be Restored

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, August 7, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups, federal and state agencies, private companies and others is working to restore 6,000 acres of river bottomlands in Arkansas.

Audubon Arkansas, joined by almost a dozen partner organizations from around the state, is beginning a multi-year project to restore the habitat of the Fourche Creek bottomlands, the group announced Monday. The 6,000 acre Fourche Creek bottomlands are located at the south end of Little Rock, and provide a drainage basin for 98 percent of the city.

The watershed is home to hundreds of plant and animal species, including many types of birds such as herons, owls, warblers and ducks. Among the benefits of Audubon's restoration work will be cleaner air and water for the region, increased recreation opportunities along the watershed, and educational programming.

"This is an unparalleled project in both the state of Arkansas and the city of Little Rock," said Ken Smith, executive director of Audubon Arkansas. "As the largest urban watershed rehabilitation ever undertaken in the state, the Fourche Creek Restoration and Education Project is an important investment in both the people and the wildlife of Arkansas. The benefits of the project will extend well beyond the city limits, and will be experienced for years to come."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $265,000 federal grant to Audubon Arkansas to launch the project. The Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission will administer the grant, which went into effect July 1, on the local level.

In addition to the EPA grant, Audubon Arkansas has received commitments for donated services totaling $700,000 of the project costs, including pledges from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Forestry Commission, the Arkansas Canoe Club, Little Rock Public Works, and Little Rock Parks and Recreation.

"The Fourche Creek project will not only improve the environment but will also provide new conservation education opportunities for all Arkansans," said Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "This is an excellent example of what happens when state, federal and local government agencies work closely with the private sector."

To implement the project, Audubon Arkansas is leasing 2,000 acres of stream and wetland habitat from the city to be used for conservation and education programs. Audubon will co-manage the site with Little Rock Parks and Recreation, and will partner with federal and state agencies, private companies, educators, non-profits, and the general public to carry out the projects.

The plan for the Fourche Creek Restoration Project focuses on three main conservation components: identification of baseline data, such as water quality and sites in need of work; pollution reduction; and revitalization of wetland function through reforestation and stream bank restoration. Each of these initiatives will include on site environmental education programs for youths and young adults.

In 2005, Audubon will begin building a new nature education center in the community of Granite Mountain, adjacent to the Fourche. Audubon will work with the Arkansas Canoe Club and Little Rock Parks and Recreation to create and maintain a system of hiking, biking, and canoe trails associated with the Audubon Center.