AmeriScan: December 5, 2002

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State Department Defends Engineered Crops

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - Among the environmental issues considered in U.S. regulatory reviews of bioengineered crops are the possibility that engineered crops will cross-pollinate with related wild plants, notes a fact sheet released by the State Department.

The agency says regulators also look at the potential that engineered crops could escape into the wild as weeds, and at the impacts of pesticide producing crops on non-target organisms.

"The bio-engineered crops that are planted by U.S. farmers have been rigorously reviewed for environmental and food safety by all relevant U.S. regulatory agencies," the fact sheet states, "including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration."

The fact sheet is one of three produced by the agency in response to concerns raised by U.S. groups and overseas organizations about the potential for engineered grain to be included in food aid sent to foreign nations. The fact sheets concentrate on maize, the primary grain offered for international food aid.

There is no evidence, the document asserts, that any of the bioengineered maize varieties now planted in the U.S. could become a weed. "Cultivated maize is not considered a weed outside of agricultural fields and the insect and herbicide tolerance traits are not expected to convert maize into a weed. During domestication, maize lost the ability to survive in the wild, and cannot maintain itself outside of an agricultural environment."

If the maize provided as food aid is planted instead of eaten, it could cross with other varieties of maize or "closely related plants," the State Department said. Most wild relations to maize live only in the Americas, the agency noted, which limits the risk posed to countries in Africa and Asia.

Regarding potential impacts of bio-engineered maize on non-target organisms - those that are not intended to be controlled by the pesticides produced by the engineered grain - the State Department said none of the tests performed in the U.S. have shown any risk to other wild animals. Some tests on Bt corn, one of the most common engineered maize varieties, have suggested that pollen from this corn could harm some native butterflies, but the fact sheet asserts that later studies "indicated that there is no significant risk to monarch butterflies from environmental exposure to Bt maize currently planted in the United States."

The fact sheets are available at: http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tpp/biotech/fs/

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Conservation Groups Sue EPA Over Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2002 (ENS0 - A coalition of environmental organizations announced today it is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to take action on global warming.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to limit all air pollution from automobiles that "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." Despite the growing impacts of global warming on human health and the environment, the EPA has not acted to control global warming pollution.

"The EPA's stalling tactics are doing real damage in the fight against global warming," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), one of the plaintiffs. "It's time for the Bush administration to get its head out of the sand."

Today's legal action was filed by CTA, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace. The lawsuit comes more than three years after environmentalists submitted a formal petition to the agency demanding that it abide by the Clean Air Act and protect public health by regulating global warming pollution.

After delaying for more than a year, the EPA opened a public comment period that ended in May 2001. During the comment period, the agency received 50,000 comments, the majority of which agreed that global warming should be addressed under the Clean Air Act. But a year and a half later, the EPA still has failed to act.

Global warming gases have been linked to unstable weather patterns, floods, droughts and outbreaks of tropical diseases such as West Nile Virus. If left unchecked, global warming will cause rising sea levels, the melting of the polar icecaps, and a host of other environmental problems that are already beginning to affect the lives of almost every American.

But the Bush administration has shown a consistent reluctance to tackle global warming. In March 2001, President George W. Bush drew widespread criticism for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and has since failed to offer any alternative. The administration's clean air plan, announced in February, ignores global warming pollution.

"Under the Bush administration, the EPA has found time to weaken or threaten many crucial environmental protections that Americans take for granted. But it can't find time to get serious about the most pressing environmental problem in the world's history," said David Bookbinder, senior attorney with the Sierra Club. "It's a shame that we have to sue the government's lead environmental agency to take action on global warming."

"The Bush Administration is asking for five more years of studies while the world is warming and regular people will pay the price," said Gary Cook, climate coordinator for Greenpeace. "We are now asking the courts to intervene and order the EPA to enforce U.S. environmental laws and take action to address global warming."

The legal compliant is available at: http://www.icta.org/

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Yukon River Agreement Benefits Salmon, Fishers

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - After 16 years of negotiations, the U.S. and Canada have signed an agreement aimed at protecting salmon along the 19,00 miles of the Yukon River.

Though the negotiations were concluded in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada in March 2001, the formal signing of the agreement did not take place until this Wednesday. In the intervening months, while the U.S. and Canada reviewed the details of the document, both countries have conducted themselves as if the final Agreement were signed.

The agreement describes the principles which both countries will follow in their management of Canada bound chinook and fall chum salmon. It establishes a Yukon River Salmon Restoration and Enhancement Fund, which will be used to support efforts to restore the health of Canadian origin salmon stocks that are harvested in both U.S. and Canadian fisheries.

A bilateral Yukon River Panel, established under the agreement, will have access to $1.2 million a year to use for restoration and enhancement projects on both sides of the border.

Alaska users will be allowed to take between 74 and 80 percent of the total allowable catch of chinook or king salmon stocks, and 65 to 71 percent of harvestable chum salmon stocks originating in the Yukon River in Canada. The total allowable catch will be defined as the salmon that exceed the number required to maintain healthy stocks.

The restoration efforts outlined in the treaty are designed to allow both countries to see an overall gain in the number of fish harvested in the future. The agreement specifies that subsistence use will have priority over other fisheries in the United States, and that aboriginal fisheries will have priority in Canadian waters.

"Salmon know no borders or boundaries," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska director Dave Allen. "The representatives from both countries recognized this fact, and had the wisdom to fashion an agreement to work for the good of the resource and its users in Alaska and Canada."

Yukon River fisher Harry Wilde, who served as an advisor to the U.S. delegation throughout the negotiations, considers the Agreement a job well done.

"The Yukon River salmon treaty with Canada took many years and a lot of hard work to accomplish because salmon is very important to all the families and communities along the river," Wilde said. "We did not treat the work lightly. Now we have a long term agreement, we can all share in the work to protect and enjoy the salmon resource."

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Atlantic Gillnets Restricted to Protect Sea Turtles

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - Gillnet fishing will be banned in federal waters off much of the Mid-Atlantic coast during most or all of the year to protect migrating sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced.

The closures, based on historic sea surface temperatures, will bar fishing with gillnets with a mesh size larger than 8 inch (20.3 cm) stretched mesh in the Mid-Atlantic Exclusive Economic Zone. The closures will take effect on January 2, 2003.

Large mesh gillnet fisheries, particularly the spring monkfish gillnet fishery off North Carolina and Virginia, pose a major threat to migrating sea turtles, particularly if gear is set in or near temperature fronts where turtles may congregate. An interim final rule was enacted for the 2002 season and was shown to be effective in protecting migrating sea turtles.

Federal waters north of the North Carolina/South Carolina border at the coast, and south of the Oregon Inlet, will now be closed at all times to large mesh gillnets. Waters north of the Oregon Inlet and south of Currituck Beach Light in North Carolina are now closed from March 16 through January 14.

Waters north of Currituck Beach Light and south of Wachapreague Inlet, Virginia, are closed from April 1 through January 14. Waters north of Wachapreague Inlet and south of Chincoteague, Virginia, are closed from April 16 through January 14. Waters north of Chincoteague are not affected by the final rule.

A pair of environmental groups would like to see similar restrictions enacted on the Pacific coast. The Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit Monday against the federal government for failing to close portions of the California drift gillnet fishery during an El Niņo year.

During these weather conditions, endangered loggerhead sea turtles are more abundant along California's coast and more likely to get entangled and drown in gillnets, the groups say. Despite a previous determination that closing the fishery south of Point Conception from August 15 to August 31 and from January 1 to January 31 during El Niņo conditions is necessary to prevent "jeopardy" to the species, the government allowed the August closure period this year to come and go with no action.

With the January closure period approaching, the groups filed suit seeking an injunction to force the Bush Administration to adhere to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

"We are simply asking the government to play by it own rules. Either it closes the fishery or we get the courts to," said Brendan Cummings, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We refuse to let sea turtles become the victims of bureaucratic footdragging."

"You pick a species and this fishery kills it," added Todd Steiner of Turtle Island Restoration Network. "Loggerhead sea turtles, sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, leatherback sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, Steller sea lions, and the list goes on. The continued, illegal drowning of sea turtles in gillnets is truly one of California's hidden environmental crises."

A copy of the complaint can be found at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org

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Kodiak Lands Opened to Visitors

KODIAK, Alaska, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - About 57,500 acres of private land within the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge has been opened to limited public use and will remain undeveloped for at least the next 10 years under a new agreement.

The land, owned by Koniag, Inc. as part of its entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), is in the Karluk River and Sturgeon River areas of Kodiak Island. It is prime recreational land popular for bear viewing and fishing.

Throughout the duration of the easement, the land and its use will be managed cooperatively by Koniag, Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Under the easement, which is funded by the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council, Koniag is paid to refrain from developing the lands and to permit regulated public access. Continued access for subsistence uses is guaranteed and all economic opportunities - through visitor services along river and lake corridors - are reserved to Koniag.

"The negotiations were well worth the time they took," said Koniag president Dennis Metrokin. "This agreement ensures enforcement of land protections, compatible commercial opportunities that will benefit our shareholders and continued subsistence activities."

"One of the reasons it has been such a challenge is that there's a fundamental dilemma between protecting our lands and public access," Metrokin added. "In its final form, the agreement regulates and limits uses that negatively impact the land."

Koniag, Inc. retains management of commercial uses, including cabin rentals and guiding activities, on easement lands within one-half mile of the Karluk River, the Sturgeon River and the shore of Karluk Lake. Permits for guiding on other easement lands will be available from refuge staff.

Although there is no fee, permits will be required for unguided activities within one-half mile of the Karluk River or the shore of Karluk Lake. An internet based permit system is expected to be operating early next year. Details will be posted as available at: http://kodiak.fws.gov/

Koniag may terminate the agreement after five years if the permit allocation system affects shareholder businesses. Koniag may extend the new easement for a second 10 year period if it wishes, but the easement will cease after 10 years if the parties take no further action.

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Hawaii Community Challenges New Cruise Visits

KAUNAKAKAI, MOLOKA'I, Hawaii, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - A Hawaiian community group has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt cruise ship visits to Kaunakakai, Moloka'i, which are scheduled to begin on December 28, 2002.

The suit challenges the decisions of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to approve the first ever cruise ship visits to Kaunakakai. The community group Hui Ho'opakele 'Aina, represented by Earthjustice, seeks to compel the state agencies and cruise ship companies to comply with state laws mandating a public process of evaluating the environmental and cultural impacts of the cruise ship visits, and to stop the visits from proceeding until that process has run its course.

"Bringing the cruise ship industry to Moloka'i will affect the island environment and community on every level: ecological, cultural, social and economic," said Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake. "The law requires the state to provide the people of Moloka'i a public forum to identify and address all these impacts. The state and the cruise industry must do this ahead of time, not after the fact."

Hui members are concerned about the impacts of gigantic cruise ships anchoring and operating in the marine environment of Moloka'i's south shore, which features one of the largest barrier reefs in the nation and the most concentrated collection of loko I'a, or Hawaiian fishponds, in the state. These natural and cultural resources support various public and commercial uses, including subsistence activities, which a 1994 study commissioned by the governor found supplies 28 percent of the food of Moloka'i residents, and 38 percent of the food for Native Hawaiians.

Hui members are also troubled about the effects of thousands of visitors flooding the tiny town Kaunakakai and other areas throughout the island. Moloka'i has a total population of about 7,000, and is renowned for its traditional rural and Native Hawaiian culture - which has earned it the nickname, "The Last Hawaiian Island."

"We want to know what kinds of substances will be going into the nearshore waters where our community members gather and fish to provide food for our families and sustain our culture," said long time Moloka'i activist and Hui member Walter Ritte. "We want to know how a town with no stoplights and one public restroom is going to handle thousands of visitors all at once. No one has given us any answers, or even an opportunity to ask the questions."

Several cruise ships owned by Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are planning at least eight visits to Moloka'i through 2004. The ships intend to call at the small boat harbor of Kaunakakai, Molokai, located in the central part of the island's south shore. The first ship scheduled to arrive is Holland America Line's ms Statendam.

"In all the planning of the visits, no one has bothered to ask the people of Moloka'i what we think," said Hui member Colette Machado. "We have been told that the ships are coming 'like it or not.' That's not right as a matter of common courtesy, let alone the law."

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Fisher Fined For Illegal Amberjack Catch

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - A Virginia fisher has been fined $10,000 for illegally landing more than 13,000 pounds of greater amberjack in violation of state law.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office for Law Enforcement and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission's Virginia Marine Police - Special Investigative Unit led a joint criminal investigation that uncovered the illegal catch by Ronney Reid and his crew. On November 26, Reid pled guilty to violating the Lacey Act, which governs commerce in protected species.

Acting on a complaint, federal and state officials learned of four fishing trips between July 17 and August 19, 2001 in which overages of greater amberjack were caught and sold to several seafood companies in North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Canada. Virginia law allows greater amberjack fishers to land a maximum of two fish per person, per trip.

According to documents obtained during the investigation, two Virginia dealers handled or purchased the fish from the vessels under Reid's control, and within 24 hours of landing, the catch was shipped out of state.

"It's as if the fish never existed," said NMFS special agent Logan Gregory. "None of these fish were ever reported as being landed or purchased from a fishing vessel to either state or federal fisheries managers."

The Lacey Act was imposed because the illegally caught fish were then sold in interstate commerce. The Lacey Act prohibits fish or wildlife entering into interstate commerce that is possessed or taken in violation of federal, state, Native America tribal and/or foreign laws.

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Scrap Tires Become Recycling Success Story

WASHINGTON, DC, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - More than 75 percent of scrap tires generated in the U.S. are being put to productive uses, according a report issued by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).

State cleanup programs and effective regulations continue to reduce stockpiled scrap tires, the report notes, despite an increasing vehicle population on the nation's roads over the past decade.

"Since 1990, RMA and its members not only have worked with state regulators and legislators to create effective scrap tire clean up programs but we also have worked with public officials and the private sector to promote end use markets for scrap tires," said Michael Blumenthal, RMA senior technical director.

The use of scrap tires in end use markets has soared from 11 percent to 77 percent since 1990. Almost 220 million scrap tires were used in end markets in 2001.

"Seventy-seven percent of the 281million scrap tires produced last year went to end use markets," Blumenthal said. "That rate is 10 times higher than ten years ago. Compared to other secondary materials such as glass, plastic, and aluminum, tires have a higher rate of recovery."

Scrap tires are used in a number of productive and environmentally safe applications. One of the most common markets for scrap tires is ground rubber, which is used to make playground surfaces, running tracks and molded rubber goods.

The largest use for ground rubber continues to be asphalt rubber, which is used in road construction. However, some obstacles remain to broader use of asphalt rubber.

"To a large extent, any large increase in the use of asphalt rubber depends on the level of interest and commitment by state Departments of Transportation," the RMA report noted. "There simply must be a willingness to accept this technology and make its use routine."

Blumenthal added that state training programs offer the best hope to increase the use of asphalt rubber.

According to RMA, the fastest growing market for scrap tires is civil engineering. Shredded scrap tires are used as fill for construction of highway embankments and bridge abutments. They also are used in landfill construction projects in leachate collection systems as well as gas venting systems and as part of the cap closure.

"Over the last two years, the market has doubled and we anticipate annual growth of 20-50 percent in the coming years," Blumenthal said.

About 40 percent of scrap tires are used as a supplemental fuel, called tire derived fuel (TDF), in the cement, paper and electric industries.

"Since 1998, TDF use has increased due to its cost effectiveness for cement kiln operations, a temporary spike in fuel prices and an improvement in quality of TDF," Blumenthal said. "It also is an efficient fuel to help reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from cement kilns."

Of the 300 million tires still in stockpiles, about 85 percent are located in nine states -- Texas, New York, Michigan, Alabama, Ohio, Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Five of those states - New York, Alabama, Texas, Michigan and Colorado - either have no comprehensive scrap tire management program or are not focusing their current program on stockpile abatement.

"RMA will continue to work with state regulators and legislators to develop and implement effective scrap tire clean up and management programs," Blumenthal said.