AmeriScan: December 20, 2002

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Mercury From China Rains Down on California

SANTA CRUZ, California, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - Industrial emissions in Asia are a major source of mercury in rainwater that falls along the California coast, a new study suggests.

The mercury in rainwater is not in itself a health threat, but mercury pollution is a problem in San Francisco Bay and other California waters because the toxic element builds up in the food chain. State regulatory agencies are looking for ways to reduce the amount of mercury entering the state's waters from various sources.

It is not just the mercury itself but a whole cocktail of atmospheric pollutants that contribute to the deposition of mercury in rainfall. Elemental mercury behaves as a gas in the atmosphere and is not washed out in rain until it has been oxidized into a charged ionic form that can be captured by water droplets.

Ozone, a major component of urban and industrial smog, plays a key role in this oxidation process, said Douglas Steding, lead author of a paper published Thursday in the online edition of the "Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres." The report by Steding and other researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) will appear in a later print edition of the journal.

"There is a relatively large reservoir of mercury in the atmosphere, and it's the rate of oxidation that determines how much of it gets deposited in rainfall," Steding said.

Mercury is a trace contaminant of most coal, and emissions from coal burning power plants are a major source of mercury pollution in many parts of the world. In the Pacific Basin, the main source of atmospheric mercury is coal combustion in China.

China relies on coal as a fuel and accounts for about 10 percent of the total global industrial emissions of mercury.

Air pollution in China also generates ozone, which peaks during the winter due to increased fuel consumption for heating. Air loaded with mercury and ozone moves off the continent into the Western Pacific, where it is incorporated into developing storms.

"The mercury we measured in rainwater results from a combination of mercury emissions and ozone production, as well as meteorological factors - the storm tracks that transport the pollutants across the Pacific," Steding said.

Steding collected rainwater samples at two sites in central California: on the coast at UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory and at Moffett Field near San Jose, on the inland side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. For each rainfall event, the researchers used air mass trajectories calculated by a national climate lab to trace the movement of the storms across the Pacific from Asia.

Rainwater collected at the coastal site showed the background concentrations of mercury in storms as they arrived off the Pacific Ocean. Those measurements were about three times higher than estimates of the natural, preindustrial level, Steding said.

Rainwater from the inland site showed mercury concentrations 44 percent higher than at the coastal site. Steding attributed the difference between the two sites to ozone in Bay Area smog, rather than local emissions of mercury.

"There is a local influence of urban smog on the mercury oxidation rate. We see a background signal of mercury blowing off the Pacific, then a local enrichment that's probably due to urban smog," Steding said. "If we want to reduce mercury deposition, it's not enough to shut down local emissions of mercury, because other pollutants influence how much of the mercury in the atmosphere ends up in rainwater."

Steding said people should not worry about health effects from the mercury in rainwater, because the concentrations are very low. But the deposition in rain does add mercury to surface waters, where the toxin enters the food chain and builds up to high levels in certain kinds of fish.

State health officials have issued advisories warning people not to eat fish from more than a dozen bodies of water in California, including San Francisco Bay.

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White House Lists Regulations It May Revise

WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - The Bush administration has released a list of federal regulations identified as needing revision or elimination, including a number of environmental rules.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) created the list of 267 regulations after soliciting nomination from a range of public commenters on rules that need reform.

The nominations are included in the 2002 Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of Federal Regulations. The Regulatory Right-to-Know Act requires the OMB to publish such "recommendations for reform."

In March, during a speech to the Women's Entrepreneurship Summit, President George W. Bush encouraged citizens to e-mail ideas to the OMB for eliminating unnecessary regulations on small businesses.

"I want to make sure people understand that we're going to do everything we can to clean up the regulatory burdens on small businesses. If there are nettlesome regulations which are costly for you to operate your business that you don't think makes any sense, I urge you to get on the Internet and wire the OMB your problem, so we can analyze it," said Bush.

The OMB also invited comments on rules affecting small businesses.

"We have an ambitious agenda ahead to address a thoughtful set of comments from the public. This is a great opportunity for smarter regulation," said John Graham, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the OMB.

OMB received input on 267 regulations and 49 guidance documents from about 1,700 commenters. More than half of the nominations would modify existing rules by increasing flexibility, including proposals to assist small businesses by encouraging competitive bids for federal contracts and reducing paperwork burdens.

Corporations dominated the nominating process, succeeding in placing many of their suggestions for changing regulations on OMB's list. The federal agency with the largest number of rules targeted for review - 65 - is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"While the Bush administration claims the aim of its hit list is to reform regulations, its objective in rewriting rules for corporations is really to weaken and roll back important safeguards for public health and the environment," said Wesley Warren, a regulatory expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Corporations can expect the White House to fulfill their Christmas wish list, and everyone else will get a lump of coal."

The OMB has directed all federal agencies to prepare to discuss the nominations by February 28, 2003. The list is available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/regpol-reports_congress.html

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Industrial Farming Causes Trouble for Bees

PRINCETON, New Jersey, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - Intensive, industrial scale farming may be damaging one of the very natural resources that successful crops require: pollinating bees.

A study by scientists at Princeton University found that native bee populations plummet as agricultural intensity goes up. In farms studied in and around the Sacramento Valley in California, concentrated farming appeared to reduce bee populations by eliminating natural habitats and poisoning them with pesticides, the researchers reported.

U.S. farmers may not have noticed this effect because they achieve much of their harvests with the help of imported bees rented from beekeepers. These rented bees, however, are in decline because of disease and heavy pesticide use.

The study, to be published this week in an online edition of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," found that native bees are capable of doing a lot more pollinating than previously believed. But it would take careful land use to take advantage of that capacity, the researchers concluded, because current high density, pesticide dependent agriculture cannot support native bees.

"This is a valuable service that we may actually be destroying through our own land management practices," said Princeton ecologist Claire Kremen, who co-wrote the study with Neal Williams, a postdoctoral researcher, and Robbin Thorp of the University of California-Davis.

Suppressing the many species of native bees and relying on just a few species of imported ones may be risky, said Kremen. Farmers who use managed bee populations - that is, most commercial farmers - depend on fewer than 11 species out of the 20,000 to 30,000 bee species worldwide.

Other researchers have estimated that $5 billion to $14 billion worth of U.S. crops are pollinated by a single species of bee, the European honey bee.

"Right now we are really very dependent on that species," said Kremen. "If something happened to that species and we haven't developed other avenues, we could really be in great difficulty."

The researchers spent two years examining watermelon farms located at varying distances from oak woodlands and chaparral habitats that are native to the Sacramento Valley. They also looked at land that was farmed with pesticides and without pesticides. They focused on watermelon because it requires a lot of pollen and multiple bee visits to produce marketable fruit.

They found that native bee visits dropped off in the farms that were distant from natural habitats and that used pesticides.

"We could then multiply the number of visits by the number of [pollen] grains deposited per visit and sum that up for all the species and figure out how much pollen the watermelon plants were receiving," said Kremen. "We found that, where it still flourished, the native bee community could be sufficient to provide the pollination service for the watermelon."

One interesting finding, said Kremen, was that the mix of native bees providing the pollination was very different in the two years of the study. In one year, a few strong pollinators accounted for most of it, while in the other, many species contributed.

"That says something about the need for long term studies and also argues for the need to maintain diversity," said Kremen.

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Oakland Joins Lawsuit Against Fossil Fuel Projects

OAKLAND, California, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - The city of Oakland has joined a lawsuit against two U.S. government agencies, charging them with illegally funding fossil fuel projects.

In a unanimous vote by the city council in closed session on Tuesday, the city announced it had approved a motion to join a lawsuit brought by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the city of Boulder, Colorado, on behalf of their members and citizens against two U.S. government agencies - the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

Ex-Im and OPIC are taxpayer funded agencies that provide financing and loans to U.S. corporations for overseas projects that commercial banks deem too risky.

The lawsuit alleges that OPIC and Ex-Im illegally provided over $32 billion in financing and insurance for oil fields, pipelines and coal fired power plants over the past 10 years without assessing their contribution to global warming, or their impact on the U.S. environment as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Key provisions of NEPA require all federal agencies to conduct an environmental assessment of programs and project specific decisions having a significant effect on the human environment. According to the complaint, OPIC and Ex-Im have refused to review the fossil fuel projects they are involved in for global warming impacts as required under NEPA.

"The threat of global warming can no longer be ignored," said Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. "I commend the Oakland City Council for taking this step to protect the Bay Area from the detrimental impacts of climate change."

The city of Oakland is the second major U.S. city to join the lawsuit. Boulder's city council voted to join the suit in August, concerned that climate change could diminish their drinking water supplies and bring a host of other negative impacts.

"The Bush administration's stance on climate change fails America's cities. Oakland and Boulder are taking a bold stand to defend themselves and hold our government accountable," said Friends of the Earth president Brent Blackwelder.

According to the Global Warming Project, the city of Oakland and the Bay Area could face increased risk of salt water contamination in groundwater aquifers as a result of sea levels rising. Storm runoff and high tides could overwhelm sewage systems.

Oakland Airport, built on a former wetland at about 10 feet above sea level would be susceptible to flooding from extreme tides coupled with flood conditions and storm surges. Increasing temperatures will aggravate respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, reduce lung function and induce respiratory inflammation.

"We congratulate the cities of Oakland and Boulder for their leadership in holding the Bush administration accountable for failing to take action on global warming," said Gary Cook, coordinator of Greenpeace's Global Warming Campaign.

For more information, including a complete list of plaintiffs, visit: http://www.climatelawsuit.org

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Suit Says Timber Sales Harm Salmon

SEATTLE, Washington, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - Commercial fishers and conservation groups have asked a federal court to rule that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acted illegally when it approved federal timber sales that harm imperiled salmon populations.

In December 2000, a federal judge made a preliminary ruling that the timber sales violated the Northwest Forest Plan's Aquatic Conservation Strategy, whose purpose is to maintain and restore functional aquatic habitat for salmon.

The fishing and conservation groups also asked the court to release about two dozen federal timber sales in Washington, Oregon and California that comply with the salmon protection rules in the Northwest Forest Plan.

"We are doing two things today," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "First, we are asking the court to permanently enjoin timber sales that do not comply with salmon protection rules in the Northwest Forest Plan. Second, we are allowing sales that do comply with salmon protection rules to move forward."

The groups say that instead of avoiding bad timber sales, the Bush administration is seeking to gut salmon protection rules.

Federal officials are allowed to authorize logging on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands under the Northwest Forest Plan after determining such logging will not harm federally protected salmon and other aquatic species.

"The Northwest Forest Plan requires that conditions for endangered fish must improve on federal lands, or at least not get worse," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman. "Sales that harm salmon habitat should be stopped, while sales that comply with salmon protection rules should be allowed to move forward."

The lawsuit charges that rather than do the work required to design sales that will not harm salmon, the Bush administration is proposing rule changes that would gut the Aquatic Conservation Strategy and make salmon protection discretionary rather than mandatory.

However, the release of several dozen sales that comply with the salmon protection rules shows that careful logging can happen under the current Northwest Forest Plan rules.

"We cannot wait any longer for the government to get off the dime and do its job, so we are moving forward by asking the court to permanently enjoin timber sales that harm salmon while simultaneously releasing projects that do not harm salmon and showing how the Northwest Forest Plan can work," said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "We hope the government sees this as a breakthrough and makes them realize that they do not need to gut the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan."

"Without the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, the road construction and industrial logging proposed by the government would have pushed endangered salmon closer to extinction," said Dave Werntz with the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "There are timber sales and watershed restoration projects that meet the salmon protection rules, and conservationists and the federal agencies can find common ground on timber sales that follow the Forest Plan and the law."

The plaintiffs in Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations v. National Marine Fisheries Service are the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Oregon Natural Resources Council, and Umpqua Watersheds Inc. They are represented by attorneys at Earthjustice.

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Tennessee Lab Will Study Truck Exhaust

OAK RIDGE, Tennessee, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are setting up a field site to monitor emissions from large trucks.

Two meteorological stations in Knoxville are already operational, and other equipment will be added as researchers from ORNL and the University of Tennessee work to develop the site. When complete, the instrumentation at Watt Road and Interstate 40 will create a world class field lab devoted to answering a multitude of questions.

"We'd like to determine, for example, whether the stricter emission regulations for trucks are achieving actual benefits to the environment," said Ralph McGill, who heads the project and is a researcher in ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. "In the immediate future, though, we're hoping to learn more about truck emissions during different operating conditions, all remotely so we won't interfere with traffic flow."

About 25,000 big rigs rumble through Knoxville every day. Large trucks are of particular interest because they are responsible for 40 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and about 60 percent of particulate matter emissions from mobile sources.

Their emissions vary according to a truck's load, speed and acceleration, yet only sparse data exist that quantify differences in emissions between the many modes of operation.

"A further complication is that engines are certified rather than particular vehicles," said Katey Lenox of ORNL's Engineering Science and Technology Division. "So we really don't know what that engine is doing under real-world conditions."

As a class of vehicle, "combination trucks," or those designed to be used in combination with one or more trailers, numbered almost 2.1 million in 2001 and were driven an average of 62,860 miles each, for a total of 135 billion miles. Passenger cars, light trucks and vans numbered 222 million and were driven 2.5 trillion miles for an average of 11,500 miles per vehicle per year.

The field laboratory will extend 2.5 miles along the valley from the Watt Road-Interstate 40 interchange to a weigh station at the top of a ridge. This section of the interstate is one of the country's most traveled highways because it is where three major interstate highways converge on a 20 mile stretch through Knoxville.

The area of the field lab is also home to three large truck stops, a trucking company terminal and other trucking industry related facilities.

In addition to the two existing meteorological towers, researchers plan to install equipment to measure nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions as trucks pass. Researchers will use roadside mounted panels to perform magnetic probing and sensing, which will enable them to calculate emissions for an individual truck on a gram per mile basis.

"By performing what's called a sound signature analysis, we'll be able to determine each truck's operating condition, including engine speed, turbine speed and the number of cylinders," Lenox said.

Faster, inexpensive instruments will someday allow researchers to measure more of an exhaust plume. With a suite of detectors and instruments at the site, researchers hope to attract researchers from across the country and make a major contribution to understanding truck emissions.

"This is a major undertaking, and to be successful we'll need help from the state, truck stop operators and many others," McGill said. "Ultimately, the data we're able to collect and analyze will be well worth the effort."

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Green Sturgeon Threatened By Human Activities

NEW YORK, New York, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - Green sturgeon, an ancient fish native to three North American rivers, is "extremely vulnerable" to extinction, a new study shows.

The ancient, shark like sturgeon has survived largely unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. But researchers at the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups say the sturgeon is now threatened by overfishing and habitat alteration such as water diversion for irrigation and pollution.

Using radio tracking techniques, the authors of the study found that once green sturgeon enter freshwater rivers to spawn they spend long periods of time in small home ranges - sometimes just a 50 by 50 yard pool - shared by numbers of individuals. This, coupled with the fact that the fish breeds in just three North American rivers, including the Rogue in Oregon, and the Klamath and Sacramento in California, makes it sensitive to human impacts.

"This study shows that green sturgeon can easily become the victims of human exploitation and habitat loss," said Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Dan Erickson, lead author of the study. "Precautionary management measures, such as the current sport fishing regulations in the Rogue, may be justified to protect populations throughout its limited range."

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A green sturgeon with a tagger. (Photo Stephen Sautner/Wildlife Conservation Society)
The research team equipped some 19 green sturgeon with radio telemetry tags - no small feat for a fish that can weigh over 200 pounds. To capture sturgeon, the team set out gill nets and hauled the fish into shallow water, where they were measured, tagged and released.

One of 25 species of sturgeon found worldwide, the authors of the study say that the green is the least understood species due to its limited breeding range. Once at sea, however, the fish can be found anywhere from Mexico to the Aleutian Islands.

In the Rogue River, anglers can only keep sturgeon under 152 centimeters (just under five feet). Most found in the Rogue exceed this length, growing up to seven feet long.

The study appears in the current issue of the "Journal of Applied Ichthyology."

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DiCaprio Donates Large Sum For Animal Welfare

LOS ANGELES, California, December 20, 2002 (ENS) - The Leonardo DiCaprio Charitable Foundation has given a "substantial" donation to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

DiCaprio, a successful Hollywood actor, established the private foundation in 1998 to award grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the world, targeting those that "make a difference for the future of the planet Earth."

"We are deeply grateful to Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation for making this important grant," said IFAW President, Fred O'Regan, from the organization's headquarters on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. "These funds will help IFAW continue our efforts to enhance international protection for elephants, and also assist our campaign to protect the world's great apes from extinction."

DiCaprio is a strong supporter of IFAW, coming on board to support the organization's global campaign against the elephant ivory trade, and IFAW's five year project to assist with the rebuilding of Kenya's Meru National Park in East Africa, a key wildlife habitat area once devastated by poaching.

"I am just pleased to have been able to assist IFAW to continue to carry out its important animal welfare and conservation work," said DiCaprio. "We must all do what we can to ensure the protection of our precious environment and the wildlife that inhabits it."