AmeriScan: August 14, 2002

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Smog Blankets Washington DC

WASHINGTON, DC, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - Smog in the nation's capitol has led to 33 unhealthy air days so far this year.

Wednesday marked the fifth day in a row that Washington DC's air quality exceeded the federal health standard, subjecting area residents to burning eyes and sore throats. This morning, children, the elderly, people with asthma or heart disease, and even healthy adults heard a now familiar warning to limit their outdoor activity.

"The smog that is choking Washington this summer should sound the alarm at the White House that this is not the time to retreat on clean air," said Rebecca Stanfield, clean air advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG). "Unfortunately for public health, even during a smog crisis, the Bush administration's dedication to the polluters' agenda appears unflinching."

Based on data from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, it has been unhealthy to breathe the air in the Washington DC area on 10 of the last 14 days. During June, July and the first half of August, the air quality in the DC area has been smoggy enough to create health problems almost every other day.

Washington DC area air quality has been deemed good on just 16 days since June 1, or on one out of every five days. Smog levels in the DC area has exceeded the old, less protective health standard that was replaced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997 eight times so far this year, tying with 1993 for worst air quality in the last decade based on that standard.

US PIRG warns that the EPA is now considering weakening clean air rules to allow power plants, refineries and other major industrial sources of pollution to escape requirements to install modern pollution controls. The Bush administration has proposed revoking the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act, which require that industries install new emissions control equipment when making major upgrades or other changes that increase capacity.

According to a report published Tuesday by the Bureau of National Affairs, "Changes to regulations that would allow companies to avoid enforcement actions under the new source review air pollution program were sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget August 13 for review."

This is the last step in the regulatory process before EPA Administrator Christie Whitman signs the changes into law.

"Administrator Whitman can still decide against signing this rollback," said Stanfield. "If she's breathing the same air we're breathing this summer, she can find the will to stand up to the polluters and do the right thing for the public."

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Massachusetts Swelters in Choking Smog

BOSTON, Massachusetts, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - Seventy communities across Massachusetts have suffered from unhealthy air conditions so far this summer.

A Sierra Club analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows that this past Monday was particularly bad, with 11 monitoring stations across the state reporting unhealthy air quality. On 18 days, Massachusetts has suffered from the combination of congested traffic and heat combining to form ground level ozone or smog.

"Cars are one of the biggest causes of bad air in Massachusetts," said Jeremy Marin, transportation organizer for the Sierra Club. "The miles of cars stuck in traffic, inching their way down the road on a hot day are a major contributor poor air quality."

Hot days are not the only time when driving a car contributes to air pollution.

"Nitrogen oxides and VOC's [volatile organic compounds] are emitted from vehicles every day of the year," said Marin. "It is on hot days that this toxic chemical cloud becomes even more dangerous."

Massachusetts has a record of unhealthy air and traffic congestion. The state ranks 33rd in air quality nationwide, based on the federal standard for bad air or ozone exceedance days: an average of .085 parts per billion of ozone measured over an eight hour period.

One recent study ranked Boston as the eighth worst city for traffic congestion in the country. In May, the American Lung Association gave an "F" grade for air quality to seven of the nine counties in the state.

The elderly, children, and those with asthma or other respiratory illnesses are at the greatest risk on days with poor air quality. According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), "The health effects associated with increased ozone concentrations vary among individuals but may include: coughing; nose, and throat irritation; chest pain; aggravation of asthma; shortness of breath; increased susceptibility to respiratory infection; decreased lung function; and other respiratory ailments."

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Illinois Classrooms Get Energy Efficiency Grants

CHICAGO, Illinois, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - Illinois elementary and high schools in 24 counties will have brighter classrooms, cut their energy use and save money as a result of $3.5 million in grants.

The grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will go to 141 schools, constituting one of the largest contributions from a private source to Illinois schools this year.

The projects are expected to reduce electricity demand by more than 6,000 kilowatts when completed by the summer of 2003 - about the equivalent of annual power use by 6,000 households. The Illinois schools upgrading their lighting through these grants will together save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on utility bills.

"Schools gain in three ways from investing in energy efficient lighting," said Peter Peters, chair of Illinois Clean Energy. "They improve lighting quality in the classroom for students and teachers. They reduce operating and maintenance expenses in the annual school budget. And they save energy, leading to less pollution in communities."

Disruption to the learning environment from old, unreliable fixtures that provide inadequate light was often cited when schools applied to Illinois Clean Energy for funding, as was the high expense of electricity bills from inefficient lighting. Schools plan to use the savings from the upgrades to invest in other energy efficiency projects, make facility improvements and return dollars to the classroom. Several school districts have earmarked their savings to support teaching positions.

"This win win win initiative benefits students, schools confronting tight budgets and the environment," noted Howard Learner, Illinois Clean Energy grant committee chair. "The participating schools are responding to Illinois residents' calls for government agencies to take the lead in making public buildings in our state more energy efficient."

In a statewide poll commissioned by Illinois Clean Energy last summer, 75 percent of respondents felt that it was extremely or very important for schools and local governments to make existing and new buildings energy efficient. Eighty-four percent favored energy efficient designs for all government funded projects.

Illinois Clean Energy, an independent nonprofit foundation, received its $225 million endowment from an electric utility, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). The foundation offers grants for energy efficiency, clean energy development and the conservation of natural areas.

"It's exciting for ComEd to help bring these energy saving projects to life," said Frank Clark, president of ComEd. "And it's gratifying to know that schools and students across the state are the ones who will reap the benefits."

More information is available at: http://www.illinoiscleanenergy.org

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Exotic Animal Dealer Pleads Guilty

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - A Florida animal park owner has pleaded guilty to selling two federally protected black leopards and an endangered Bengal tiger.

Timothy Dale Rivers, owner of Animals in Motion Animal Park in Citra, Florida admitted to a court in St. Louis court that in August 1998, he sold two black leopards to a buyer in Illinois through an animal dealer in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for $750 each. He also admitted to falsifying federal documents to indicate that the sale of the leopards was a donation.

Rivers also admitted to being involved in the illegal sale of an endangered Bengal tiger to the same animal dealer on October 27, 1998. Following the sale of the tiger, Rivers again falsified a form to indicate the tiger sale was a donation. The tiger was transported from Florida to Missouri and then on to Illinois, where it was killed four days later.

Rivers was among five people indicted in St. Louis last November following a lengthy undercover investigation, dubbed "Operation Snow Plow." Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the U.S. Attorney's Offices in Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, uncovered a group of residents and small business owners in the Midwest that bought and killed tigers, leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars and other exotic animals with the intention of selling the meat, skins and other parts into the lucrative animal parts trade.

Federal wildlife charges were later brought against three defendants in Michigan and seven individuals and one exotic foods business in Illinois.

Rivers is scheduled to be sentenced on November 20 in Cape Girardeau. He faces a maximum penalty of one year confinement, a fine of $100,000 and up to one year supervised probation.

The other Missouri defendants, Todd and Vicki Lantz of Cape Girardeau and Stoney Elam of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, have already pleaded guilty to multiple violations of federal wildlife laws and will be sentenced later this fall.

Freddy Wilmoth of Gentry, Arkansas, was sentenced in May to six months home confinement, three years probation and ordered to pay $10,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save the Tiger Fund for violating the federal Endangered Species Act. He was also sentenced to serve two weekends in jail and pay a $25 special assessment.

Tigers are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The law also protects leopards, which are classified as either endangered or threatened depending on the location of the wild population.

Although federal regulations allow possession of captive bred tigers, the regulations stipulate that activities involving their use must be designed to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. It is unlawful to kill the animals for profit, or to sell their hides, parts or meats into interstate commerce.

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Grazing Leases Used as Loan Collateral

SANTA FE, New Mexico, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - An environmental group has issued a court challenge to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policy that allows public land ranchers to use federal grazing permits as collateral when seeking loans from banks.

Forest Guardians claims the BLM policy has enabled banks and ranchers to privatize millions of acres of BLM lands throughout western states, and is calling on the BLM to cancel the policy.

Forest Guardians has sought to obtain agency records showing the exact extent of the loans, but has been denied the information by BLM offices in all 11 western states. So far, Forest Guardians has obtained information showing that up to $10 million in bank loans may be tied up in lienholder agreements on grazing allotments on BLM and other public lands.

Two months ago, Forest Guardians received information about the Forest Service's escrow waiver program, showing that banks have made $450 million in loans to private livestock permittees using Forest Service grazing allotments as collateral. This week, Forest Guardians filed suit to obtain similar data from the BLM.

The suit, filed in federal District Court in Santa Fe, seeks to force the BLM to release information regarding which public lands have been used as collateral under lienholder agreements, the identities of the banks participating in the lienholder program, and information concerning the total amounts of loans made by each bank using public lands as collateral.

"This policy is allowing the banks and the ranching industry to privatize our public lands," said Kirsten Stade, Forest Guardians' spokeswoman. "The policy undermines every legal principle that confirms that grazing permits are privileges and not rights."

Forest Guardians claims the banks have become vocal in their opposition to livestock reductions that have been forced by lawsuits from Forest Guardians and other environmental groups. A case in point is a lawsuit filed by a the State Bank of Southern Utah challenging proposed reductions in livestock grazing on federal allotments. The brief states that reductions in permitted grazing would reduce the value of the grazing permit, and that these "reductions in value will jeopardize the collateral for the loans. Thus, [we] will stand at risk for significant losses on these ranching loans."

"Imagine the public outrage if we let private industry get a mortgage using the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial as collateral," said Stade. "The BLM shouldn't support a policy that allows ranchers to borrow money based on permits to land that is owned by the American people."

Forest Guardians contends that the policy promotes further commercialization of public lands. The purpose of the lienholder agreement policy, Forest Guardians argues, is to provide financial security for banks and ranchers, while ignoring the environmental impacts of permitting too many cattle on the land.

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Missouri Cavesnail Listed as Endangered

TANEY COUNTY, Missouri, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Tumbling Creek cavesnail, found only in one southwestern Missouri county, has been listed as endangered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the cavesnail under the emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act in December 2001 after biologists noted a sharp drop in the cavesnail population. The emergency listing remained in effect for 240 days while the agency reviewed public comments and made a final decision about listing the cavesnail.

"The plight of the Tumbling Creek cavesnail is, unfortunately, typical of many cave species," said William Hartwig, regional director for the USFWS Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region. "They are seldom seen and often forgotten. But they can be barometers of the health of our natural systems, especially when we understand their dependence on clean water, something that is vital to all life."

Tumbling Creek cavesnails live only in an underground stream that flows through Tumbling Creek Cave in southwestern Missouri's Taney County. These cavesnails measure about one tenth of an inch in length, with a white body and pale yellow shell.

The species lives beneath rocks in portions of the stream where there is little or no silt, and feeds on microscopic organisms in the creek.

The Tumbling Creek cavesnail's population has been monitored for the last six years to get a clear picture of the species' population trends. Surveys conducted over the past one and one-half years have found no snails in the survey area, although a few individuals were discovered upstream from the survey site.

Biologists believe the cavesnail's drastic downturn in population may be due to deteriorating water quality in Tumbling Creek. Water that feeds into Tumbling Creek can be affected by erosion and other activities that occur on the land above - particularly those that increase silt and sediments in the creek, such as removal of streamside vegetation and overgrazing by livestock.

Other threats include pollution from accidental chemical spills or dumping trash into sinkholes that are connected to underground waterways.

The USFWS will now focus on protecting the snail and its habitat, while working with partners in other state, federal, and local agencies, universities and other organizations to develop a recovery strategy for the Tumbling Creek cavesnail. The agency will be responsible for developing a recovery plan, which outlines steps needed to protect the cavesnail, prevent extinction, and recover the species' population.

Actions that may help the Tumbling Creek cavesnail include continued monitoring of the remaining population, identification of specific threats to the water quality of Tumbling Creek, and working with landowners to reduce the potential for erosion and pollution of the underground water system.

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Alaska Harbor Lands Most Fish - Again

WASHINGTON, DC, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - For the 13th year in a row, the port of Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Alaska has landed the highest volume of fish in the nation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday.

Commercial fishers brought 834.5 million pounds of fish to the Dutch Harbor-Unalaska port in 2001, an increase of 134.7 million pounds over 2000 landings. Reedville, Virginia was ranked as the number two port for the quantity of landings in 2001, with 488 million pounds landed.

New Bedford, Massachusetts claimed the top spot in the country for the economic value of its fish landings with $150.5 million brought in to its port, an increase of $4.2 million from the year 2000. Dutch Harbor-Unalaska was second with landings valued at $129.4 million - an increase of $4.5 million. The Kodiak, Alaska catch value was third at $74.4 million.

Dutch Harbor-Unalaska holds the all time record for the value of its one year landings: $224.1 million in 1994.

The continuing increase in value of New Bedford landings for the second year was due to sea scallop landings holding steady and an increase in landings of Atlantic cod, yellowtail and winter flounder due to improving groundfish stocks. New Bedford returned to the top value port last year, after a nine year absence that was in part caused by widespread depletion of the New England groundfish fishery and declining numbers of sea scallops.

The large landings value increase in 2001 at Dutch Harbor-Unalaska came from increased groundfish catch from the Bearing Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.

A complete list of commercial fishery landings and value at 50 major U.S. ports for 2000 - 2001 is available at: http://www.st.nmfs.gov/st1/publications.html

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Sierra Club Funds Mexican Projects

EL PASO, Texas, August 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Sierra Club plans to fund environmental projects run by four Mexican grassroots organizations.

The projects chosen to receive financial assistance are all designed to fight pollution and to improve the working and living conditions of border communities.

"Environmental degradation, caused by the explosive growth of the maquiladora industry, has reached alarming levels throughout the border region," said Jenny Martinez, Sierra Club program officer. "Dangerous chemicals have poisoned the air, land, and water that these communities rely on."

The grants, which range from $10,000-$25,000, are part of the Sierra Club's Beyond the Borders, Mexico project. A joint project of the Sierra Club and the Sierra Club Foundation, Beyond the Borders, Mexico is designed to support and strengthen grassroots environmental and community groups in Mexico.

The groups will use the money for activities ranging from fighting illegal dumping and garbage burning, to monitoring the levels of ocean and drinking water contamination, promoting recycling programs, or expanding outreach to the community through environmental education campaigns.

The following groups received funding: Centro de Estudios Fronterizos y de Promoción de los Derechos Humanos and GAVIOTA of Centro Reynosa, Tamaulipas; Grupo Ecologista "Gaviotas" Playas de Tijuana of Tijuana, Baja California Norte, and Centro de Investigación y Solidaridad Obrera of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

"We consider a healthy environment to be a human right," said Omeheira López, director of the Centro de Estudios Fronterizos y de Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C. in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.

"With this grant, we'll be able to pursue legal and grassroots strategies to protect the environment and public health for the families and communities of the border region," López added.

Mexican and Sierra Club border groups interested in applying for Beyond the Border, Mexico Project grants can find applications and grant guidelines at the Sierra Club's bilingual web page.