AmeriScan: February 8, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The Senate voted Thursday to slash subsidies to large farms, cutting in half the money available to the biggest farms and capping other subsidies far below current levels.

The Senate passed a farm bill amendment offered by Republican Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, that limits federal farm payments to corporate farms and redirects millions to help keep smaller farms working and intact.

"Today's vote is a huge victory for family farmers," said Grassley. "Capping farm payments will restore integrity to farm programs. Taxpayers can now have confidence that farm assistance will be targeted to those who need it the most. Today's action also sends a message that we will no longer tolerate large corporate farms reaping most of the benefits of federal farm payments."

The bipartisan amendment caps federal commodity payments at a maximum of about $275,000. The farm bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee would have allowed for payments up to $500,000 per farm.

The amendment passed Thursday states that those with more than $2.5 million in net agricultural income over three years are not eligible for federal farm payments. It also removes loopholes that allow the largest farmers to receive multiple payments, and helps ensure those receiving federal assistance are actively involved in agricultural production.

"Farm support programs are vital to our farm families and our agricultural communities. No one is arguing that," said Hagel. "But without real enforceable payment limits, we would have hurt the same family farmers that we claim we want to help."

The amendment will provide $1.3 billion in savings over 10 years that will be divided among the food stamp program, agriculture research, a beginner farmer program and crop insurance.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) is backing a five year study of environmental changes in the Arctic that indicate a marked warming of the atmosphere.

The NSF has designated $30 million to be allocated over five years for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) project. The agency has requested an additional $1 million per year to start in fiscal 2003.

In recent decades, permafrost zones have melted, the extent and thickness of sea ice have decreased, glaciers are melting more rapidly and air temperatures are warmer. Other changes include different varieties of plant communities, warmer subsurface ocean currents and different precipitation patterns. All of these affect animal habitats and migration routes.

Native populations have also been affected. The environmental changes have been named Unaami, the Yu'pik word for tomorrow, because the changing environment makes it difficult for native residents of the Arctic to predict their future living conditions.

The SEARCH project is intended as an interdisciplinary study of the interrelated atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial changes in the Arctic and their potential impacts on the environment, regional societies and economies. In funding the study, NSF is acting on the Arctic Research Commission's recommendation for a long term study of the causes and consequences of the changes.

The NSF will first support a five year study of the freshwater cycle in the Arctic. Ten percent of the global freshwater runoff runs into the Arctic Ocean, where it affects the supply of nutrients and the overturn of ocean surface water that recycle nutrients.

The volume of freshwater helps to determine the volume of new sea ice created each year on the broad continental shelves of Russia. The biological productivity of the region, in turn, supports fisheries and marine mammals, while changes in the sea ice influence climate due to the ice's significant effect on the earth's heat budget.

This effort represents the first coordinated study of both the terrestrial and marine aspects of the freshwater cycle. NSF will begin considering proposals on the freshwater cycle in mid 2002.

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BERKELEY, California, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - Schoolchildren in every state are being exposed to toxic air pollutants from the school buses, concludes a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Most states rely on diesel school buses to transport children, yet no state monitors the amount of pollution released from school buses or requires school districts to purchase low emission buses.

"California and Washington's fleets were the worst in the country, but every state relies upon high polluting school buses," said Patricia Monahan, lead author of the new report "Pollution Report Card: Grading America's School Bus Fleets," and senior clean vehicles analyst at the UCS.

"In a single year, America's average school bus emits as much soot as 125 cars," added Monahan.

The "Pollution Report Card" is the first pollution analysis of school buses across the country. It assigns each state fleet wide grades based on the emissions of toxic soot particulates, smog forming pollution and heat trapping greenhouse gases.

Just six states and the District of Columbia ranked "ahead of the curve." Twenty-three states received a "middle of the road" ranking, while the remaining 21 states did poorly or flunked the report's grading system.

America's school bus fleet emits almost 95,000 tons of smog forming pollution and more than 3,000 tons of soot every year. Other chemicals emitted by school buses contribute to smog, which impairs the respiratory system and causes coughing, choking, and reduced lung capacity.

A study by state air pollution control officers found that diesel pollution is responsible for 125,000 cancer cases over a lifetime of exposure. Diesel soot is small enough to evade the body's defenses and lodge deep in children's lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and even premature death.

"Diesel pollution harms everyone, but our children and their developing lungs are hurt the most," said Michelle Robinson, senior advocate for Clean Vehicles at the UCS. "Going to school should not be hazardous to our kids' health."

The schoolbus report card is available at:

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MOAB, Utah, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved energy industry requests to explore for oil and natural gas in a proposed wilderness area between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

The BLM has expedited an application by an energy company to conduct oil exploration in the proposed Dome Plateau Wilderness on the eastern edge of Arches National Park.

As the state of Utah hosts the world at the 2002 Winter Olympic games, enormous machines known as thumper trucks are pounding the ground near Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. The Olympic torch traveled through the arch, one of the most recognizable features of this stretch of Utah desert, on Tuesday.

"Today, as we honor the Olympic spirit while the torch is carried through Delicate Arch, it is astonishing to realize that oil drilling could occur right next door," said Wayne Hoskisson, public lands chair for the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club. "The Olympics is a time when all of us want to celebrate our land. But to care about America we must show that we are willing to care for America."

Soils, vegetation, rock ledges and archaeological sites would all be impacted by oil exploration, the Sierra Club warns. Trucks would blaze brand new routes over the top of fragile land and blackbrush, which can take a hundred years or more to recover.

Approving destructive oil exploration in these last wild areas would set a dangerous precedent, the group charges. Oil exploration and development all across southern Utah is already rising in proposed wilderness areas such as the Book Cliffs, Lockhart Basin and Comb Ridge.

The "New York Times" reported this week that the Bush administration has advised its Western BLM managers to help hasten energy development on public lands as part of the president's national energy plan.

"Utah needs to ensure that existing staff understand that when an oil and gas lease parcel or when an application for permission to drill comes in the door, that this work is their No.1 priority," BLM supervisors wrote to field officers in a memorandum obtained by the "Times."

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LANSING, Michigan, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - Three thousand acres of timberland has been permanently protected in Michigan, and another 3,275 tract is soon to follow.

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) provided $12.5 million, covering the sale cost, while The Nature Conservancy's Michigan Chapter will raise funds to cover $250,000 in related interest charges. MNRTF members voted unanimously in favor of the acquisition, despite heavy competition from more than 220 other proposals.

The Nature Conservancy acted as a third party broker in the transaction, buying the land from International Paper's Lake Superior Land Company, and holding it until Thursday's reimbursement from the MNRTF for 3,009 acres this year, with the remaining acreage to be transferred next year.

The new parcel includes 5.5 miles of forested shoreline along Lake Superior, five miles of the Montreal River, a top ranked trout stream, waterfalls and parts of three glacial lakes. The area has long been identified by the Conservancy as a high priority for biodiversity protection because of its unique ecological value.

"Today is an historic day for Michigan conservation," said Helen Taylor, state director of The Nature Conservancy-Michigan Chapter. "The tip of the Keweenaw peninsula is truly one of the last great places on Earth, and we're honored to play a role in its protection."

The parcel links almost 2,500 acres already owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and 1,500 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy to encompass 14 miles of protected Lake Superior shoreline. More than 10,000 contiguous acres will now provide habitat for species such as bald eagles, bear and moose. Thousands of raptors and migratory shore and songbirds use the area as a stopover site through the Great Lakes flyway.

"The true beneficiaries here are the people, plants and animals of Michigan," said MDNR director K.L. Cool. "The victory today is for all of us, and for future generations."

The MNRTF receives its revenue from royalties generated by leasing of oil and gas on state owned land. Michigan was the first state in the country to start such a fund. The deal concluded Thursday represents one of the largest property transactions in the 25 year history of the MNRTF.

"People don't always realize our industry's role in protecting Michigan's precious natural resources. No matter where you live or may visit, you're just steps away from a project that has benefited from Michigan's petroleum industry," said Frank Mortl, president of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) has approved a declaration committing its members to support efforts to stamp out illegal logging worldwide.

"I want the U.S. to be the worldwide leader in the fight against the illegal harvesting of trees," said W. Henson Moore, president and CEO of the AF&PA. The AF&PA Board of Directors passed the position statement during a meeting in Washington, DC on January 31.

AF&PA, the national trade association of the forest products industry, represents more than 250 companies and related associations that engage in or represent the manufacture of pulp, paper, paperboard and wood products.

"Today's statement sends a strong message that the U.S. forest products industry opposes illegal logging anywhere in the world," said Moore. "Stopping illegal logging is critical to the future competitiveness of our industry. Illegal forest harvesting is not only bad for the world's forests, it also undermines consumer confidence that the forest products they use are made from trees harvested in an environmentally responsible manner."

Under the position statement passed by the Board, AF&PA members will support the conservation of forest areas designated for protection by law and will encourage governments and the private sector to work together to end all illegal logging in areas where timber harvesting is prohibited. AF&PA will also support government monitoring and assessment of forests as essential to devising appropriate and effective measures to counteract illegal logging.

"I intend to push this issue at international conferences with my counterparts in the forest products industry worldwide, and I have asked the U.S. government to redouble their efforts to make this a priority in international meetings when it is appropriate," continued Moore. "The illegal harvesting of trees must be stopped."

The action by AF&PA was met with support from at least one member of the environmental community.

"We applaud leadership by U.S. industry to combat illegal logging overseas, which in turn will help protect some of the world's most threatened tropical rainforests," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy.

The forest products industry accounts for more than eight percent of total U.S. manufacturing output, employs 1.5 million people and ranks among the top 10 manufacturing employers in 46 states.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $6,078,686 to Missouri to weatherize an estimated 1,726 low income homes.

"This weatherization assistance grant will enable Missouri to provide energy saving home improvements to hundreds of low income families this year," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Weatherization reduces an average home's energy cost by $218 each year."

By improving the energy efficiency of homes, DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program reduces the burden of energy costs for low income Americans, particularly in households with elderly residents, people with disabilities and children.

For every dollar spent, the Weatherization Assistance Program returns $2.10 in energy savings over the life of the weatherized home, the DOE estimates. The Weatherization Assistance Program provides comprehensive energy auditing, health and safety diagnostic services and whole house energy efficiency services, including air infiltration reduction, insulation, heating system service and electric base load measures.

Since the program's inception, more than five million homes have been weatherized with federal funds together with state and utility monies and fuel assistance programs.

President George W. Bush has recommended that funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program be increased by $1.4 billion over 10 years. The congressional appropriation for the Weatherization Assistance Program of $230 million for this year represents a 50 percent increase over the 2001 funding level.

This year, the Weatherization Assistance Program will reduce the energy bills of about 105,000 low income families.

Missouri's grants will be handled through the weatherization program director at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Division of Energy.

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 8, 2002 (ENS) - Oscar winning actress Angelina Jolie will speak Saturday at the Olympics at a round table discussion on sports and children.

Jolie, Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR, will join UNHCR Commissioner Ruud Lubbers at the event sponsored by Olympic Aid, an international association of athletes dedicated to promoting healthy sports and play as a right of all the world's children. Olympic Aid sponsors sports programs for refugee children in more than a dozen UNHCR camps in Africa and Asia.

"I can't think of a better time and place - Salt Lake City at the start of the Winter Olympics - to join forces with two of the world's most prominent women to draw attention to the needs and the potential of millions of refugee children,'' said Lubbers, whose agency works in some 120 countries and has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The presence of large numbers of refugees can have a serious impact on the surrounding environment, affecting water supplies, forests and animal populations. In recent years, UNHCR has worked with host governments to try to alleviate the environmental impact as much as possible.

"As the world gathers in the spirit of friendship and healthy competition, we need to be aware that there are many refugee children who have never known the carefree joy of a simple childhood game or the sense of accomplishment that comes from teamwork," Lubbers added. "Many have simply forgotten how to be children. Play and teamwork can help heal their emotional scars and restore at least some semblance of normalcy in the otherwise alien environment of a refugee camp."

Jolie will speak about her experiences visiting refugee camps and operations in Africa and Asia. The journals she kept to share her field experiences are published on:

Renowned wildlife expert Dr. Jane Goodall, who is exploring programs to benefit the world's refugee children, will also be in Salt Lake City to meet with representatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Goodall, perhaps best known for her 40 year study of wild chimpanzees in Africa, is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, an international organization dedicated to animal research, conservation and environmental education.

A key part of the Institute's outreach is its Roots and Shoots program, an international environmental and humanitarian education program for young people with some 4,000 groups in more than 50 countries. She and Lubbers are examining possible Roots & Shoots projects for children in refugee camps.

Fun, hands on projects aimed at connecting children with their natural environment - one of the main goals of Goodall's Roots & Shoots program - can give young people a greater sense of community and self respect. Lubbers said the Roots & Shoots program would give the refugees themselves an opportunity to identify appropriate projects - re-forestation, for example - and then to carry them out with the possible support of other branches worldwide.