AmeriScan: February 14, 2002

HOUSE PASSES CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM BILL

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - With a 240-to-189 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives voted early this morning to ban unregulated soft money - huge, unlimited and unreported donations from corporations and wealthy individuals.

The Sierra Club says the Shays-Meehan Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act will help protect the environment because polluting industries will no longer be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of money into campaigns.

The Sierra Club today thanked Representatives who voted to approve the Shays-Meehan bill and urged President George W. Bush to sign the bill into law. The Senate passes almost identical legislation last year, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, has said he will bring the House bill in its current form to the Senate floor for passage, bypassing the conference committee process.

While criticizing some aspects of the legislation, President Bush has said he will not veto the bill if it is sent to him for signature.

"Americans want to get big money out of elections so their voices can be heard, rather than allowing big polluters, like Enron, to buy excessive influence," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "After donating thousands of dollars to the Bush campaign, Enron had a hand in ghostwriting Vice President Cheney's energy policy while Americans were shut out of the process. A check should not buy one's place at the table."

According to opensecrets.org, Enron's Political Action Committee and its employees contributed $114,000 to President Bush during the 2000 campaign, while former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay served as one of President Bush's Pioneers: individuals who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.

After the election, Lay had six meetings with Vice President Cheney regarding the Bush administration's national energy policy.

"When Congress listens to voters rather than to corporations, they'll hear that Americans want to drink clean water, breathe clean air and marvel at beautiful landscapes," continued Pope. "Now, more than ever, Americans don't want their elected officials beholden to corporate interests. We applaud those Representatives who supported this clean campaign finance reform measure. President Bush must make this legislation the law of the land."

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COURT INVALIDATES WOOD WASTE DUMPING PERMITS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - An appeals court ruled Wednesday that Alaska timber companies will no longer be allowed to dump logging debris into waterways.

For years, timber companies in Alaska have been permitted to dump bark into coastal waterways under Clean Water Act permits issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated those permits in a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"For too long timber companies have treated Alaskan waters as a waste dump at the expense of marine life and the people who rely on clean water for fishing and recreation," said Sharon Buccino, an NRDC senior attorney. "This is a major victory for NRDC and all Alaskans who care about protecting their environment."

The NRDC filed suit against the EPA in July 2000 over permits that took effect the previous March. Those permits allowed timber companies to use bays and estuaries throughout southeast Alaska, including those in and around the Tongass National Forest, to store downed logs before transferring them to barges for export or mills for processing.

For generations, Native Americans and other Alaska residents have relied on these same waters for subsistence fishing and gathering, commercial fishing, recreation and ecotourism. The accumulation of bark at these dump sites often covers several acres. The bark persists on the ocean floor for decades, smothering and killing marine life.

The appeals court decision invalidated the EPA's permits, making the timber companies operations now unlawful. The court ordered the EPA to remand the permits. If the agency offers a new proposal for the permits, it would have to notify the public, and give citizens the opportunity to comment.

A number of Alaska based organizations joined NRDC's suit, including the Hoonah Indian Association, the Organized Village of Kake, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

"This ruling will protect the environment and people harmed by the timber companies' pollution," added Buccino. "No longer will EPA be able to let the timber industry monopolize Alaska's coastal waters for its own profit."

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BETTER SECURITY ORDERED FOR NUCLEAR PLANTS

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plans to order all commercial nuclear power plants and other key nuclear facilities to enhance their security

The agency said it will issue orders for the facilities to implement "interim compensatory security measures for the high level threat environment" that exists since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Some of the new requirements will formalize a series of security measures that NRC licensees have already taken in response to advisories issued by the NRC in the aftermath of the attacks. Additional security enhancements suggested by an ongoing top to bottom security review at NRC will be spelled out in the orders.

After the September 11 attacks, the NRC advised all 104 nuclear power plants and other key nuclear facilities to go to the highest level of security, which they did. Specific measures were later defined in a number of advisories, and have been subject to audit by NRC security experts.

The NRC says it has decided to issue orders to require "prudent interim compensatory measures" because the high level threat environment has persisted longer than expected and, as a result, "it is appropriate to maintain the security measures within the established regulatory framework."

The details of specific additional security requirements have not been made public, but they include such things as additional personnel access controls; enhanced requirements for guard forces; increased stand off distances for searches of vehicles approaching nuclear facilities; and heightened coordination with appropriate local, state and federal authorities.

The NRC says that security against sabotage has long been an important part of the NRC's regulatory activities and licensee's responsibilities.

"Nuclear power plants are among the most formidable structures in existence, and they are guarded by well trained and well armed security forces," NRC added.

But studies by watchdog groups and Congressional committees suggest that nuclear plants are vulnerable to attack, and that further steps must be taken to protect the public and the environment from potential radioactive releases.

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DOE REASSIGNS ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGERS

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) is reassigning 40 percent of the 70 senior executives in its Environmental Management (EM) program.

The reassignments, part of the DOE's Environmental Management Program review, are intended to "strengthen, streamline and delayer the leadership of the program," the agency said. The action also reduces the number of senior executives in EM headquarters by about 30 percent.

"The purpose of these reassignments is to better leverage the unique talents of these executives, force better integration between the field and headquarters of the real, on the ground challenges confronting the program, and to stimulate new thinking and creative solutions to our cleanup challenges," said Jessie Roberson, assistant secretary of Environmental Management.

These changes are consistent with recommendations from a recent top to bottom review of the EM program. Cross rotational assignments will be used with greater frequency across senior levels of the organization to ensure that executives have both field and headquarters expertise.

A total of 27 senior staff are involved in the first round of executive reassignments. Reassignments include moves from headquarters to the field, field to headquarters, moves between field offices, and positional moves in headquarters.

The 30 percent reduction in headquarters executives is being achieved by executives leaving the senior executive service, reassignment into senior advisor positions, and moves to other field or headquarters organizations.

"Executive reassignments will continue in order to better develop the program's leadership cadre and to keep a fresh and dynamic perspective about solving the EM challenges," Roberson added.

Some of the reassignments announced Wednesday include:

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CONGRESS REVISITS INDIVIDUAL FISHING QUOTAS

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - Congress is now considering whether to authorize individual fishing quotas (IFQ's), giving exclusive rights to a share of a fish population to individuals and corporations.

Many U.S. fish stocks are in jeopardy. A recent analysis by the Marine Fish Conservation Network (MFCN) found that 31 species of federally managed fish are threatened with extinction. The number of federally managed fish stocks that are overexploited, at dangerously low levels, or both, reached a record high of 107 last year.

One proposed solution is individual fishing quotas (IFQ's), which would parcel out shares of public fisheries to private or corporate fishing companies, giving them exclusive rights to a percentage of the annual catch. In theory, this would give the shareholders an incentive to conserve ocean fish in order to protect the value of their shares.

Unable to reach an agreement on how to regulate IFQ programs, Congress placed a moratorium on new IFQ programs until September 30, 2002. On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans began hearings on the future of IFQ's in U.S. fisheries.

Among those who testified was Lee Crockett, executive director of the MFCN, who outlined the conservation group's proposal for regulating IFQs to ensure the conservation of ocean fish and the protection of fishermen and fishing communities. MFCN's proposal calls on Congress to adopt legislative standards that acknowledge that marine fish belong to the public and that IFQ's do not create compensable property rights.

"As a public resource the fisheries are the property of the American people and should not be simply given away," agreed Nate Heasley, director of the fisheries program for Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), which also testified before the House subcommittee. "If these programs are allowed without significant safeguards they will rob taxpayers of a valuable resource that amounts to a massive giveaway to the fishing industry."

The MFCN told Congress that it must ensure that IFQ programs enhance fish conservation by establishing a strict set of standards that IFQ programs must meet and that fishers must adhere to in order to be eligible for quota shares.

MFCN also recommended protecting fishers and fishing communities by establishing standards that ensure that large corporations do not dominate fisheries, that small operators are preserved, and allow for new participants to enter fisheries under IFQ programs.

"In Alaska and New Jersey, where IFQ programs were implemented without adequate standards, they have put fishermen out of work and done too little to improve the health of the fisheries themselves," said Crockett.

Fishing associations such as the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Florida Federation of Fishermen fear that unrestricted IFQ programs will all but wipe out the family fishers.

"If IFQ's are to be allowed, a great deal of care must be taken," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "In our rush to embrace market mechanisms in fisheries, we need to be sure IFQ's don't make fishermen destitute sharecroppers with fisheries being owned by fish processing companies and banks."

Many environmentalists are concerned that IFQ programs developed without adequate conservation standards would fail to conserve fish.

"Should Congress allow the IFQ moratorium to lapse, it is critical that there be safeguards put in place to assure the long term sustainability of fish stocks and make it easy for one to lose their IFQ if they are abusing the privilege of harvesting our nation's fisheries," said Russ Dunn, director of government relations for the National Audubon Society's Living Ocean Program.

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PARK SERVICE WEBSITE BACK ONLINE

WASHINGTON, DC, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Interior, which had to shut down its entire computer system in answer to a lawsuit 10 weeks ago, has brought the National Park Service back online.

While most Interior Department (DOI) sites remain off line, including the main agency site and sites for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Park Service site is now up and running, offering information for park visitors across the nation.

On December 5, 2001, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the DOI's computer systems left Indian trust accounts, which include about $3 billion in assets, vulnerable to outside interference.

Lamberth ordered the DOI and its agencies to remove all its systems with any links to Indian trust data from the Internet, until the agency can demonstrate that the systems meet appropriate security standards. The agency is now reviewing all its information systems, but for the time being, many functions will remain unavailable.

Even the Indian Trust computer system, which helped track payments due to tribes and other Native American beneficiaries, has been offline, keeping the DOI from issuing these funds.

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced she has authorized the Office of Trust Funds Management to begin issuing estimated oil and gas payments to Indian trust beneficiaries.

"I am glad that we are able to get estimated payments moving," Norton said. "The past couple of months have been frustrating for all involved. This is a very high priority for the department, and we are working aggressively to manage these accounts and ensure that estimated payments are made to individual Indians."

The estimated payments will be based on a percentage of payments made to individuals during the three most recent months when checks were issued, Norton said.

Due to the ongoing systems shutdown, the income from oil and gas leasing can not be forwarded to the Office of Trust Funds Management for distribution. Because new oil and gas revenues are not being processed and deposited to the owners' accounts, no payments have been made since December 5.

Since December, a team of computer experts and technicians have been evaluating Interior's information technology systems, improving the protection of individual Indian trust data and taking the steps to gain the court's permission to reconnect the department's computer system to the Internet.

In late January, the court gave its permission to activate the Integrated Records Management System to process grazing and timber lease payments. The Department of the Interior has trust responsibilities for American Indians, dating back to 1887, and manages, among other things, rents and royalties from grazing, mining, logging and oil drilling on Indian lands.

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TAGGED BLUE WHALES CLEAR UP MYSTERIES

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - Blue whales, the planet's largest animals, travel much farther and faster than scientists ever thought, finds research being presented today

The whales search for fertile marine upwelling zones that provide their diet of krill and help them grow as large as 100 feet (30 meters) long and weigh in at a up to 100 tons.

Since 1993, Oregon State University marine mammal expert Bruce Mate and his colleagues have tagged 100 blue whales off the California coast and tracked their movements by satellite. They found that blue whales travel rapidly from one feeding area to another, and continue to feed throughout the entire year.

Other whales, including grays and humpbacks, stop feeding during their late fall migration and while at their winter breeding grounds - areas that, in comparison to their summer feeding areas, are "biological deserts," Mate said.

"These blue whales move fast," said Mate, who directs the Marine Mammal Program at Oregon State University. "They are like a streak. They can't afford to waste a lot of time in low density food zones, so they really move from one high productivity area to another."

The feeding habits of these California blue whales dictate much of their behavior, Mate said. Like other whale species, they begin migrating southward in the fall, but individual whales stop when they encounter good feeding zones and may stay there for weeks at a time, whereas many other whales species migrate en masse and do not make such stops.

Mate's research has also provided new information about the effects of shipping travel on migrating whales, and new estimates of population size and health.

Much of these data about blue whales is new, Mate said. Little was known about the migration and winter habits of blue whales until scientists developed new technologies to study them.

"In the old days, we would tag a whale and have to follow it by boat to stay within five miles, because that's how far the signal traveled," Mate said. "If it got out of range, that was it. And we could only track one animal at a time."

"Now we receive data on 15-20 blue whales simultaneously, as well as several other species," he added. "The technology is getting better all the time. It isn't unusual now to track whales via satellite for four to five months, and we tracked one blue whale for 307 days before the batteries were exhausted. That provides a lot of data."

These and other findings on blue whales will be presented today at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union's Ocean Sciences division in Honolulu.

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COTTON CANDY POLYMER PROTECTS PLANTS

ITHACA, New York, February 14, 2002 (ENS) - Farmers may someday be able to exchange pesticides for an industrial grade polymer that looks and acts like cotton candy as a major weapon against agricultural pests.

Michael Hoffmann, Cornell University professor of entomology and director of the university's New York State Integrated Pest Management program, and his colleagues have been testing nonwoven fiber barriers made of ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, as a bug prevention device.

cotton candy

Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), nicknamed 'cotton candy' by Michael Hoffman, keeps insects from attacking this broccoli plant (Photo by Baird/Cornell, copyright Cornell University)
The polymer, identical to the material used in hot melt glue guns, can be extruded under pressure to form webs that cover plants and appear to ward off agricultural pests like onion maggots, cabbage maggots and corn earworms.

"The best way to envision these barriers is to think of cotton candy just like you buy at the circus," Hoffmann explained, "except remove 99 percent of the fibers and what remains is a nonwoven multidimensional barrier that can be strategically placed to interfere with insect behavior."

Hoffmann introduced the new pest management tool in his talk, "Novel Pest Management Tactics: Pushing the Envelope," at the 2002 New York State Vegetable Conference on Wednesday.

Nonwoven fiber barriers hold considerable potential for the management of onion maggots and cabbage maggots, Hoffmann said. Without any pest controls in place, as much as 90 percent of a cabbage crop can be destroyed, and as much as 40 percent of untreated onions can be wiped out.

Onion and cabbage fields now rely on insecticides applied during planting to control maggots. Long term reliance on insecticides is problematic because of the continuing threat of the development of resistance to the chemicals.

"The need for alternative control measures for both the cabbage maggot and the onion maggot is critical," said Hoffmann.

In Hoffmann's field cage experiments, the scientists learned that placing EVA fibers around the base of onion plants reduces the number of eggs laid by female onion maggots. EVA treated plants had an average of 1.4 eggs per plant compared with an average of 10.4 eggs for untreated plants.

During a field experiment, the researchers applied EVA to young broccoli plants. While the polymer appeared to inhibit the leaves unfurling for a week or two, the leaves broke free of the barrier and were unaffected by the fiber mat, said Hoffmann.

"One day we hope to use fibers with proper characteristics for pest repellence and timed degradation so that the barriers remain intact only as long as necessary. The technology exists, and it's just a matter of pushing forward with more research and development," Hoffman added.

The weblike barriers also hold potential for several other insect pests, birds and maybe even deer, he said.