AmeriScan: February 28, 2002

EPA MUST REVISE DC'S RUNOFF RULES

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - A federal appeals board has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise its permit limiting Washington DC's discharges into nearby waterways.

The appeals board ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Water Act by failing to protect DC's rivers from polluted storm water runoff. At issue was an EPA permit that was supposed to limit the District's discharge of contaminated runoff into DC waterways.

Earthjustice appealed the permit on behalf of Friends of the Earth and Defenders of Wildlife more than a year ago, arguing that it failed to protect water quality standards and contained other major defects. The appeals board agreed with Earthjustice that the EPA had not met its duty to assure protection of water quality standards.

The board also ruled that the permit illegally allows changes in storm water control requirements without public notice and opportunity to comment, and improperly allows the District to waive storm water pollution rules.

As a result of the Board's decision, the EPA must now ensure that the permit will reduce contamination enough to comply with water quality standards

"This decision will reverberate through rivers, lakes and streams across America," said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "Linking storm sewer permits to water quality standards is an essential step toward making our waterways safe for swimming and fishing."

Polluted runoff carried by the District's separate storm sewer system is one of the major sources of water pollution in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, Rock Creek, and other area rivers. Rainfall washes pollution into the sewer system from industrial yards, construction sites, roads, parking lots and other paved areas.

Bacteria, toxic metals, pesticides, oil, grease and organic chemicals all seep into the water systems through this process.

The Clean Water Act required the District more than 10 years ago to obtain an EPA permit limiting these discharges. However, as a result of delays by both the DC government and EPA, a final permit was not issued until April 2000.

Earthjustice contended that the final permit required little in the way of concrete new measures to attack the runoff problem and it did not assure compliance with water quality standards. Earthjustice argues that many measures are available to attack the problem, including: stronger runoff control rules for industrial yards and construction sites, stepped up rule enforcement, retrofitting of paved areas with vegetation to reduce and filter runoff, hi-tech street sweeping, and reduced use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

"The decision is a great victory for clean water in the District of Columbia," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The time has come to make our rivers safe our children and families to use and enjoy."

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EPA ENFORCEMENT NOMINEE CHALLENGED

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has nominated John Peter Suarez to be assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The position is responsible for ensuring the enforcement of federal environmental laws and programs and requires confirmation from the Senate.

Suarez has served as director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement since 1999. Prior to that, he was assistant counsel to then Governor Christie Whitman, now the EPA Administrator.

In 1998, Suarez was special assistant to the New Jersey Director of Criminal Justice. From 1992 to 1998, he was Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of New Jersey.

Conservation groups question his credentials for the environmental post.

"Leading EPA's federal enforcement program is a major responsibility that requires a demonstrated commitment to enforcing environmental laws and programs," said Maria Weidner of Earthjustice. "While Mr. Suarez has an enforcement background, it is of concern to us that he seems to lack an environmental track record."

Suarez is the second person to be nominated to head EPA's enforcement and compliance program. The Bush administration's original nominee - Donald Schregardus - withdrew his name from consideration in September after facing opposition from the public and several Senators due to his lax environmental record as director of Ohio EPA.

"We urge the Senate to carefully review whether Mr. Suarez vigorously enforced gaming laws in his current position, and to consider what issues could arise as a result of his apparent lack of experience with environmental programs and laws," Weidner concluded.

Earlier today, Eric Schaeffer, the EPA's director of regulatory enforcement, delivered a letter of resignation to Administrator Whitman. In his letter of resignation, Schaeffer noted his concerns over the Bush Administration's proposals to weaken enforcement of New Source Review, a Clean Air Act program that requires antiquated power plants and factories to install modern pollution control equipment when they expand.

His decision was met with dismay from environmental groups.

"All Americans should be alarmed by Mr. Schaeffer's letter of resignation, which expressed his frustration and concern with the Bush Administration's weakening of enforcement for environmental protections that safeguard clean air," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Mr. Schaeffer's resignation letter confirms our fears that the Bush Administration is preventing the nation's environmental cop from policing his beat. Americans want tough enforcement of our environmental laws, but the administration is letting polluters get away red handed. We hope the Mr. Schaeffer's resignation sounds a wake up call for the Bush Administration."

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RECLAMATION: KLAMATH FARMERS CAN EXPECT WATER

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - The Bureau of Reclamation said Wednesday that, unlike last summer, it will be delivering water to farms in the Klamath Basin this year.

As of February 26, snowpack in the Klamath Basin was at 116 percent of normal, which makes for a normal water year, Reclamation said.

The Reclamation Bureau issued the final 2002 Biological Assessment for the Klamath Project on Wednesday, stating that projected water conditions will make it possible to deliver irrigation water to Klamath Project farmers in 2002.

The biological assessment reflects the findings included in a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) interim report dated February 6, and considers the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, tribal rights, and contractual and wildlife refuge obligations.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) barred delivery of irrigation water to area farmers, saying the water was needed to keep the region's stream levels high enough to protect endangered fish. The NAS report released earlier this month questioned the science behind the USFWS decision.

The operations plan proposed in Reclamation's biological assessment requires formal consultations with the USFWS and the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), with informal consultations with contracting districts, tribes and other parties.

The assessment "presents an innovative and environmentally responsible approach to the competing water needs in the Klamath Basin," said Reclamation commissioner John Keys. "It enables Reclamation to meet its contractual and refuge obligations while ensuring that sensitive species' needs are addressed."

"Reclamation is committed to a collaborative approach in the Klamath Basin to meet the requirements of the ESA, our contracts with water users, and our tribal trust responsibilities," he added.

A central piece of the new Biological Assessment is an innovative concept to create a Klamath Project water bank that provides incentives for farmers to sell their water allotments to help meet targeted lake levels and river flows. On a voluntary basis, farmers would be paid to waive their contract entitlement for one year, making more water available for environmental needs.

Another tool proposed by Reclamation is the installation of fish screens on the A-Canal of the Klamath Project. The screens will help keep fish from entering the canal, and will be in place by the irrigation season beginning on April 1, 2004.

Reclamation also proposes to study and install a fish passage at Link River Dam.

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RAD WASTE SHIPMENTS WORRY MAYORS

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - The nation's mayors are worried about the safety of planned cross country shipments of radioactive wastes.

In a letter to President George W. Bush last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has expressed concerns about the transportation of spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste from reactors across the country to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, or to any other repository

The letter, which emerged from the Conference's Leadership Meeting on February 22, was initiated by Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin and signed by 18 mayors, including Conference president and New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. The mayors call on President Bush to include a transportation analysis and an environmental impact study in the Department of Energy's final report.

"We are concerned the DOE has not yet fully researched the methods for the transportation of nuclear waste," the mayors wrote. "Regardless of the final repository location, we have serious concerns about the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from reactors all over the country to Yucca Mountain or any other repository. These shipments will travel through America's cities past our schools, homes and places of business."

In 1996, The U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a policy on the transportation of radioactive waste that calls for the federal government to fund the training and equipment that will be needed by local emergency response personnel along transportation routes, to upgrade medical facilities which would treat victims of transportation accidents, and to upgrade highway and railroad or highway bypasses to ensure safe transportation corridors.

It also calls on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to certify shipping transportation containers after a public process that includes both physical testing and computer modeling to ensure that the containers can withstand severe accidents.

The Conference has not taken a position on selection of the Yucca Mountain site for the nation's sole high level nuclear waste repository.

The mayors' letter is available at: http://www.usmayors.org/

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PENNSYLVANIA DEFENDS MINING REGULATIONS

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - Pennsylvania has filed a complaint against the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) after the agency rejected the state's measures to require mine operators to repair, replace or compensate for damages caused by underground coal mining.

"While we agree with some of the suggestions made by OSM, it overstepped its authority in telling Pennsylvania specifically how we have to change our program to meet minimum federal requirements," said state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Hess. "We believe that the wholesale elimination of key parts of Pennsylvania's program creates gaps in the overall approach and has a negative impact on the residents who rely upon these important protections."

"For example, if we followed the letter of OSM recommendations, we would have to eliminate the parts of our program that protect water supplies for farms and take away the right of people to be fully compensated in cases where buildings cannot be fixed or water supplies replaced," Hess explained. "We have, however, complied with the federal directive by submitting descriptions of proposed program amendments to OSM."

In a December 27, 2001 final rule, OSM rejected portions of Pennsylvania's mining regulatory program after almost four years of review by the federal office. To maintain primary responsibility over its mining regulatory program, states must seek OSM approval for changes to such programs.

To address the legal and procedural questions raised by OSM, DEP filed a complaint in the U.S. Middle District Court requesting the court to review the OSM action. The DEP challenged OSM's decision, saying the Pennsylvania regulations would provide more protection for state residents than federal law.

Secretary Hess also announced improvements to DEP's mining program to help landowners with damage and water loss from longwall mining.

"We've been reviewing how DEP helps people deal with having their homes and farms undermined," Hess said. "We found too many people tried to go it alone in dealing with coal companies, either because they didn't know their rights or they didn't have confidence that DEP would respond."

A study of the 932 properties located above longwall mines between 1993 to 1998 found that less than half reported water loss and about one-third experienced structural damage.

"We want people to know we are there to help before, during and after mining to ensure building damage and water losses are being resolved quickly," Hess said. "When damage occurs, we are not going to wait to get involved with the property owner and the coal company until a claim is filed."

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PARK SERVICE BUDGET NEEDS A BOOST

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - At a press conference Wednesday, a new coalition called Americans for National Parks and several members of Congress called for a $280 million increase to the National Park Service's fiscal year 2003 budget to protect the national parks.

Research has shown that on average, the national parks receive only two-thirds of the funding needed to fulfill their mission. Congress has increased funding to protect these parks, but the budget of the National Park Service has failed to keep pace with increased visitation and pollution, and over development adjacent to the parks.

"Our federal budget needs to reflect that we have added new national parks, forests, monuments and heritage areas over the last several years," said Representative Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican. "Walking the ruins of Mesa Verde, hearing the echoes of the great national debates in Independence Hall, protecting the wilderness habitat of some of God's most remarkable creatures - these are some of the most precious and uniquely American parts of our cultural and natural heritage. It is our responsibility to preserve them, for us, for our children and for our grandchildren."

A diverse coalition of 150 businesses, trade associations, government agencies, and organizations from across the country, Americans for National Parks is building public demand for park protection. In shops and restaurants across Knoxville, Tennessee, and San Francisco, California, for example, Americans for National Parks has distributed 500,000 postcards addressed to the president in support of increased funding for the parks that individuals can sign and mail.

The coalition is also advertising in several Capitol Hill publications, including Roll Call and the National Journal in the aim of educating legislators about the needs of the national parks and the campaign goal of increasing the annual operating budget of the Park Service.

"Each year millions of Americans families enjoy the fresh air, natural splendor, and diverse wildlife of our national parks," said Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat. "If we are to preserve our parks for future generations, however, we must heed the call of Americans for National Parks and invest the resources necessary for their continued preservation and maintenance."

More information is available at: http://www.americansfornationalparks.org

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BILL WOULD BAN UNNECESSARY ANTIBIOTICS ON FARMS

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - A bill now before Congress would phase out the routine feeding of certain antibiotics to healthy farm animals within two years.

Representative Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, introduced the bill, which is aimed at antibiotics similar to those used on humans. Use of such antibiotics in farm animals is believed to contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that can infect humans.

The bill, "The Preservation of Antibiotics for Human Treatment Act of 2002," is endorsed by the American Public Health Association, American College of Preventive Medicine and Ambulatory Pediatric Association, and Keep Antibiotics Working: The Campaign to End Antibiotic Overuse, among other groups. Original bill cosponsors include Democratic Representatives Harry Waxman of California and Louise Slaughter of New York, who also is a bacteriologist.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are fed to healthy farm animals to promote growth and compensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions often found on factory farms. More than half of those drugs are identical or related to antibiotics used to treat human illness.

The introduction of Brown's bill coincides with the release of a new national poll showing that by almost a five to three margin (52 percent versus 32 percent), poll respondents believe "Congress (should) enact a law to stop (the) routine feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals."

The poll respondents also said by more than a two to one margin (65 percent versus 27 percent) that they "would buy meat and poultry raised without antibiotics if they were available at your grocer even if doing so raised your total grocery bill by 80 cents per week."

The 80 cents per week cost increase is the National Academy of Sciences' estimate for a family of four of eliminating all antibiotics in healthy animals, not just the ones targeted by Brown's bill.

By more than a two to one margin (62 percent vs. 25 percent) poll respondents "think farms should voluntarily end (the use of medically important antibiotics in healthy farm animals) even if no law requires them to do so." The survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch between January 23-27.

"Use of medically important antibiotics in healthy farm animals contributes to infections in people that are resistant to treatment with antibiotics," said Dr. Tamar Barlam, an infectious disease physician at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Representative Brown's bill will help keep antibiotics working for the people who need them."

More information is available at: http://www.KeepAntibioticsWorking.com, http://www.BayerWatch.com or http://www.AntibioticsPetition.com

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QUADRUPLET SHARKS BORN IN STEINHART AQUARIUM

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 28, 2002 (ENS) - Marsha, a six foot long, white tipped shark who lives in Steinhart Aquarium, gave birth to four 25 inch, three pound baby sharks late last week.

The pups were discovered at about 6 am on February 22 by the staff of the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. One of the pups has been identified as a female, but the sex of the other three is not yet known.

"It's a rare event for a first time mother of this species to give birth to four, healthy shark pups in captivity," said the shark's keeper, Pam Schaller, aquatic biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium. "We hadn't been expecting more than two pups. But the newborns are feeding well and we are optimistic about their chances for survival."

Baby sharks often do not survive past their first five days of life, but Marsha's children appear to be healthy and feeding well. The young sharks have been eating about five percent of their body weight each day and have been resting as a group in a dark corner of their tank.

Schaller suspected that Marsha might be pregnant when she noticed bites around the shark's gills in February 2001. Male sharks often bite females during copulation, which lasts about two minutes.

The mother had been kept in a private tank since November 2001, when an ultrasound confirmed her pregnancy, to protect her offspring from the other sharks in the tank. The gestation period was about 13 months.

After giving birth, Marsha was returned to the main shark tank, to ensure that she would not eat her own young. The father of the four pups is either Amos or Arthur - the two male, white tipped sharks at the Steinhart Aquarium.

White tipped sharks are native to the tropical areas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and are often found near the Galapagos Islands. The sharks are most active at night, spending their days resting in caves and reefs.