U.S.-Chile Reach Free Trade AgreementWASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - A free trade pact reached by the U.S. and Chile is raising some concerns among environmentalists.
After almost 10 years of negotiations, the two countries reached an agreement Wednesday that the Bush administration is touting as the first step toward a broader pact with the entire Western Hemisphere. Congress is expected to approve the agreement, which is designed to eliminate tariffs on 85 percent of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products, with most remaining tariffs eliminated within four years.
The agreement would also provide protection for intellectual property, and set certain labor and environmental standards, said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who called the pact "good news for America's farmers, ranchers and exporters who are eager to take advantage of the new and promising export opportunities that the agreement will bring."
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Zoellick said the agreement addresses congressional concerns over labor and environmental protections and includes an "innovative enforcement mechanism" that would use monetary assessments to ensure compliance with commercial and labor and environmental obligations.
"It not only slashes tariffs, it reduces barriers for services, protects leading-edge intellectual property, keeps pace with new technologies, ensures regulatory transparency and provides effective labor and environmental enforcement," Zoellick added.
The U.S.-Chile free trade agreement would be the first comprehensive trade agreement between the United States and a South American country, and both Zoellick and Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said they hoped the pact would encourage progress in upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas talks, as well as in World Trade Organization negotiations.
Critics note that the USTR has not made public the text of the agreement, leaving American workers, consumers, farmers, environmentalists and reporters to trust to the government that the pact will deliver its purported benefits. They charge that neither U.S. nor Chilean citizens were allowed to provide meaningful input into the creation of the Free Trade Agreement.
However, representatives of industrial, agricultural, and banking interests were allowed full access to the process.
"This is international law created by corporations for corporations with the public cut out of the process," said Martin Wagner, director of the International Program at Earthjustice based in the U.S.
Wagner said he expects the U.S.-Chile pact to be "yet another set of international trade rules that favor corporations while undercutting the ability of national and state lawmakers to protect the environment and public health standards."
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, warned that while, "U.S. and Chilean consumers, farmers, and workers are still in the dark, but they can be assured that bad process leads to bad results. The investment 'fixes' in the agreement fall far short of what is needed, and far short of even what Congress demanded in the Fast Track trade bill."
In November 2001, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for International Environmental Law, Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen, filed suit in federal court Zoellick for limiting public access to the U.S. negotiating position on the US-Chile Free Trade Agreement. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the groups asked the USTR to disclose documents it provided to Chilean negotiators including investment rules that would limit the ability of U.S. local and national governments to protect their own health standards and environmental laws, but the documents were not released.
Similar investment provisions in NAFTA have been the basis for a $1 billion challenge to a California plan to phase out the use of the harmful gasoline additive MTBE, and a $16 million dollar award to the U.S. based Metalclad corporation after local Mexican government officials refused to authorize the company to build a hazardous waste facility that could have contaminated drinking water. Extending these rules in an agreement with Chile could further weaken the ability of the United States and Chile to protect the environment and human health, critics warn.
Carcinogens: Estrogens, Ultraviolet, Wood DustWASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - Estrogens used in hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives have been added to a federal list of known human carcinogens.
This and 15 other new listings bring the total of substances that are known or "reasonably anticipated" to pose a cancer risk to 228.
The tenth edition of the report from the National Toxicology Program was forwarded to Congress and released to the public on Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The reports are published every two years after lengthy study and scientific reviews by three successive expert panels of government and non-government scientists.
In a statement releasing the report, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson thanked "the hundreds of scientists who have contributed to this report through their original research or their careful reviews of these important studies. The public is well served by this dispassionate report that helps all of us ensure that the American public is made aware of potential cancer hazards."
The tenth report lists the group of hormones known as steroidal estrogens as "known human carcinogens." A number of the individual steroidal estrogens were already listed as "reasonably anticipated carcinogens" in past editions, but this is the first report to list all these hormones as a group.
Also listed as new known causes of cancer in humans are broad spectrum ultraviolet radiation, whether generated by the sun or by artificial sources; wood dust created in cutting and shaping wood; nickel compounds and beryllium and its compounds commonly used in industry. Beryllium and beryllium compounds are not new to the list but were previously listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
The report is mandated by Congress as a way for the government to help keep the public informed about substances or exposure circumstances that are "known" or are "reasonably anticipated" to cause human cancers. The report also identifies current regulations concerning these listings in an attempt to address how exposures have been reduced.
The report makes a distinction between "known" human carcinogens, where there is sufficient evidence from human studies and "reasonably anticipated" human carcinogens, where there is either limited evidence from human studies that the substances cause cancer, or sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from experimental animal studies.
The report does not assess the magnitude of the carcinogenic risk, nor does it address any potential benefits of listed substances such as certain pharmaceuticals. Listing in the report does not establish that such substance presents a risk to persons in their daily lives.
The full report is accessible at: http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov
$209 Million Pledged for Nebraska ProgramWASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are launching a $209 million program to address water quality and wildlife habitats in all or a portion of 37 counties in Nebraska.
"The Conservation Research Enhancement Program (CREP) encourages farmers to help improve the nation's natural resources," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "Through this Nebraska partnership, runoff contaminates will be reduced, thereby enhancing wildlife health and water quality for Nebraska rivers and streams."
The Nebraska CREP partnership targets 100,000 acres in the central and eastern parts of the state. These funds will help protect lakes and water sources through the establishment of tree buffers, planting of native and other grasses and the restoration of wetlands.
The primary goal in Nebraska is to reduce the amount of sediment and agricultural chemical runoff that reaches streams.
The total cost of the program is expected to reach $209 million over 15 years. Of that amount, $143 million will come from the federal government and $66 million from state and private organizations.
CREP uses state and federal resources to help solve environmental problems. The CREP combines an existing Agriculture Department program, the Conservation Reserve Program, with state programs to provide a framework for partnerships to meet specific state and national environmental objectives.
These programs provide for voluntary agreements with farmers to convert cropland to native grasses, trees and other vegetation in return for rental payments and other incentives.
Farmers who sign up for CREP in Nebraska will receive a one time payment of $100 to $150 per acre for land enrolled in a riparian forest buffer or grass filter strip practice. They can also get a one time payment equal to about 40 percent of the eligible cost for establishing the buffer or filter strip, in addition to an up to 50 percent cost share assistance that the Agriculture Department will provide for installation.
Participating landowners also receive annual rental payments for the life of their CREP contracts - from 10 to 15 years - plus an incentive payment of 20 percent of the calculated soil rental rate for cropland and 20 percent of the established rate for marginal pastureland.
Interested farmers and ranchers may contact their local Farm Services Administration offices for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures. More information is available online at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crep.htm
Sustainable Seafood Found to Be Cost EffectiveBOSTON, Massachusetts, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - Corporate seafood buyers can make money and protect ocean resources by selecting sustainably caught seafood, a new report suggests.
The report issued by Environmental Defense's Alliance for Environmental Innovation argues that environmental sustainability and business success can go hand in hand for seafood buyers. Through extensive research, the report, entitled "Business Guide To Sustainable Seafood," shows that while some seafood products have major environmental problems, a wide variety of high quality, competitively priced, and environmentally responsible products are available.
"Seventy percent of world fish stocks are fully exploited or overfished, and catches are declining," said Bruce Hammond, project manager at Environmental Defense. "Our research shows that, while some species are overfished, businesses and consumers can make more sustainable seafood selections that are similar in taste and texture, often lower in cost, and provide greater supply stability."
For example, Atlantic cod, which is overfished, can be replaced in many applications by other mild white fish such as New Zealand hoki or farmed tilapia - at substantial cost savings. Chilean sea bass is also being overfished and illegally caught, but sablefish offers a comparable flaky white meat and high oil content at a fraction of the cost.
The report highlights several potential business benefits from sustainable seafood purchasing - from good public relations and lower costs to better quality and more predictable supply.
The report, available at: http://www.environmentaldefense.org/alliance, asks businesses to switch to environmentally preferable seafood products, promote sustainable seafood products as a good way to grow their business and preserve fishery resources, and educate consumers about the overexploitation of fisheries and the alternative choices available to them.
Less Than Three Dozen Pronghorn Left in ArizonaTUCSON, Arizona, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - The latest range wide survey of endangered Sonoran pronghorn in the United States found an estimated 21 to 33 animals, a substantial decline from previous surveys.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS, conducted a range wide aerial survey from November 30 to December 4. Almost 2,000 square miles in southwest Arizona were surveyed including parts of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Barry M. Goldwater Range, and some Bureau of Land Management lands.
The department conducts the survey every two years. The December 2000 survey yielded a population estimate of 99 while the December 1998 survey showed 142 animals.
However, in 2002 the entire range of Sonoran pronghorn, like most of Arizona, experienced a devastating drought. Almost no rain fell for more than 13 months over much of the range.
The result was very poor forage conditions for pronghorn. While eight years of continuous pronghorn monitoring has shown that dry conditions often result in low fawn recruitment, this was the first year adult animals have died in large numbers due to drought.
From the first of June to mid-August 2002, 80 percent of the radio collared sample of pronghorn died from drought related causes. Recent rainfall throughout pronghorn range has provided substantial but temporary relief for the remaining animals.
Data suggest that drought induced nutrient and moisture poor forage has been a primary factor in the decline of Sonoran pronghorn. Federal agencies, including the USFWS, National Park Service, Department of Defense and Bureau of Land Management, along with Arizona Game and Fish, are taking action to provide for water and high quality forage.
"We are digging wells and installing a sprinkler system to grow forage this winter in habitats used by pronghorn," said Dale Hall, director of the USFWS's southwest region. "Winter moisture is critical for growing the lush forage that nursing mothers will feed on in the spring when their fawns are born."
Sonoran pronghorn, unique to North America, were listed as an endangered species in 1967. The listed pronghorn now includes three sub-populations of Sonoran pronghorn: two in Sonora, Mexico, and one in Arizona.
All three sub-populations contend with roads, fences, canals, and other barriers to movement. Border fencing and highways have divided the United State's sub-population from the sub-population on Mexico's El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve.
Further south, the largest sub-population is isolated from the El Pinacate sub-population by Mexico's Highway 8. In December 2000, the population of Sonoran pronghorn in Mexico was estimated at about 350 animals. Biologists from the United States and Mexico are planning another aerial survey of the Mexican populations to get more current estimates later this month.
Cruise Ship Regulations Help Cut Water PollutionJUNEAU, Alaska, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - Alaska state and federal cruise ship regulations appear to limit the impact of cruise ship discharge into Alaska's waters, shows a report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).
The findings are the result of almost two years of research, fieldwork, and discussions by the state's Science Advisory Panel, an independent panel of experts in oceanography, microbiology, engineering, and toxicology, created to assess the impacts of cruise ship waste on the environment and human health in Alaska. Its work and conclusions are not subject to government or industry approval.
"In this report, the Science Panel addressed topics that were of concern to the public," said panel member Charles McGee. "We evaluated bacteria and hazardous chemicals and their potential to adversely affect public health and the marine environment."
The panel concluded that a properly maintained, well managed modern cruise ship, operating in full compliance with government regulations, will not release shipboard chemicals or bacteria into the environment at a quantity or level that will cause measurable negative environmental or public health.
However, the panel has some concerns and advises the state to consider the necessity of adding a residual chlorine standard to prevent excessive chlorine from entering the marine environment. Chlorine is often used as a disinfectant in wastewater treatment systems.
The panel also expressed some concern about small cruise ship and ferry wastewater discharges when the vessels are at anchor and in areas where there is little water movement. The ADEC will further address the impact of small cruise ships and ferries on the Alaska environment in a report to be completed later this month.
Alaskans rely on their marine resources for subsistence, commerce, and recreation. In 1999, ADEC established the Alaska Cruise Ship Initiative to address Alaskans' concerns about the potential impacts of the substantial number of cruise ships on the state's marine waters.
The diverse members of the initiative - ADEC, industry representatives, the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, members of the public, environmental groups, and municipalities - all agreed that independent science was needed to fill data gaps and created the Science Advisory Panel for this purpose.
"The members of the Panel volunteered hundreds of hours to the evaluation of the impact of wastewater discharge from passenger vessels. As best I could determine from my research, the Panel's report is the most comprehensive, definitive treatment of the subject to date," said Dave Eley, facilitator of the Science Advisory Panel. "This study is a valuable resource for governments and industries developing policy and guidelines for wastewater discharge into marine waters."
The report is available at: http://www.state.ak.us/dec/press/cruise/documents/impactcruise.htm
Smart Windows, Ethanol Technique Among GranteesGOLDEN, Colorado, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy has awarded grants totaling $4.4 million to advance energy efficient, environmentally clean production and building technologies.
"Twenty-five percent of the energy used to heat and cool buildings goes right out the window," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "The innovative technologies receiving funding today will improve U.S. industrial competitiveness while reducing energy use, helping to make our nation more secure."
The Energy Department selected 19 organizations out of 202 proposals to receive funding as part of two DOE programs: Inventions and Innovation (I&I), and the National Industrial Competitiveness through Energy, Environment and Economics (NICE3) initiative.
Among the projects selected for funding are:
Over the past 20 years, DOE's I&I program has funded more than 500 energy efficient inventions with almost 25 percent of them reaching the marketplace. Cumulative sales for those products total almost $710 million.
DOE's NICE3 program provides funding to state and industry partnerships for projects that demonstrate advances in energy efficiency and clean production technologies. State and industry partnerships are eligible to receive a one time grant of up to $525,000.
The industrial partner may receive a maximum of $500,000 in federal funding. The non-federal cost share must be at least 50 percent of the total cost of the project.
Bear Shooting Costs Mississippi Man Almost $10,000GRACE, Mississippi, December 12, 2002 (ENS) - A Mississippi man has been fined almost $10,000 for killing a threatened Louisiana black bear.
Eric Wade Mobley, pled guilty last week in the Southern District of Mississippi federal court to one count of violating the Lacey Act for killing the bear, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
U.S. Magistrate James Sumner ordered Mobley to pay almost $10,000 for killing the bear. Judge Sumner awarded $4,000 in restitution to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, $3,000 in restitution to the Mississippi Black Bear Restoration Task Force, a fine of $2,000, and a $662 veterinary bill.
Mobley will also be required to perform 20 hours of community service with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks Hunter Education Program and placed on a one year probation with the condition that he cannot hunt anywhere in the world.
"Protection of the threatened Louisiana black bear is a high priority in this area and with help from conservation officers of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, we were able to successfully resolve this case," said Robert Oliveri, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resident agent in charge in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. "Enforcement of federal and state conservation laws is a vital part of wildlife conservation and management."
Oliveri said the bear's remains were discovered a year ago in a slough at an Issaquena County, Mississippi hunting club. The head and paws had been removed from the carcass.
Law enforcement officers and a veterinarian conducted a forensics examination of the bear and obtained bullet fragments from the fatal shot. The investigators then conducted interviews and discovered information leading to Mobley.
"I swore that I would never admit to killing that bear," said Mobley after investigators searched his home. They found the rifle used to shoot the bear hidden in a storage building.
Mobley then admitted that he had killed the bear, cut off the head and paws, and stated that he was scared so he dumped the bear parts in Steel Bayou, Mississippi. The Search and Rescue Dive Team of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission explored the cold waters of Steel Bayou for two days, but did not find the bear parts.
"This case was an intensive, investigative effort involving the State of Mississippi, the State of Arkansas and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," said Lt. Colonel John Collins of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "The law enforcement officers used competent investigative skills in obtaining a confession and bringing this case to justice."