AmeriScan: January 18, 2001

PLAN WOULD REDUCE GULF OF MEXICO DEAD ZONE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a proposed plan to reduce the 8,000 square mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. An EPA report released today concludes that fertilizer and manure are being washed into the Mississippi River, causing dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico to fall too low to support marine life, a condition called hypoxia.

The EPA, along with nine other federal agencies, nine states along the Mississippi River, and two tribes have developed a plan to reduce the size of the oxygen deprived dead zone, which threatens the nation's most productive fishing grounds. The states and federal agencies have agreed to work together to cut the dead zone by about half its average size over the next 15 years.

"This landmark agreement will help protect the Gulf of Mexico," said J. Charles Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water. "We are especially pleased that all nine states along the Mississippi River have committed to work with the federal government to resolve a national water quality problem."

The plan's participants agreed to develop strategies to reduce nutrients entering the Gulf, including nitrogen, by 30 percent. About 90 percent of the nitrates entering the Gulf come from agricultural, stormwater and wastewater runoff.

The conservation group Environmental Defense praised the EPA plan and called on Congress to provide incentives for reducing polluted runoff to protect the Gulf.

"The next Farm Bill will help decide the future health of the Gulf of Mexico," said Scott Faber, a water resources specialist for Environmental Defense. "Many farmers are implementing practices that help combat hypoxia, but nearly as many farmers who want to help are being turned away due to inadequate federal funding."

Faber said Congress should expand programs that pay farmers to restore lost wetlands, retire sensitive lands, install vegetation buffers along streams and reduce fertilizer use.

The EPA report is available at: http://www.epa.gov/OWOW/msbasin/organ.html

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BABBITT BARS GOLD MINE IN CALIFORNIA

EL CENTRO, California, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Citing impacts to historic resources and Native American values, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has denied permits for an open pit, cyanide heap leach mining project proposed on public lands in eastern Imperial County, California.

The mine, called the Imperial Project, was proposed by Glamis Imperial Corporation on 1,571 acres of mining claims located about 45 miles northeast of El Centro, California and 20 miles northwest of Yuma, Arizona.

The decision signed by Babbitt was recommended by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which administers the public lands involved.

The BLM determined that the proposed project would cause unavoidable damage to historic, natural and Quechan Indian tribal resources in an area designated by Congress as the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). The negative impacts of the mine would violate federal laws concerning the CDCA, and would override the possible economic benefits of the project, Babbitt said.

Under the project proposal, up to 150 million tons of ore would have been mined and leached, and 300 million tons of waste rock would be mined and deposited on the site. The facilities would have included the mine and processing area, open pits, waste rock and topsoil stockpiles, heap leach pads, administrative and maintenance buildings, a precious metal recovery plant, haul roads, an electrical substation and distribution lines.

The Interior Department's decision is available online at http://www.ca.blm.gov

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GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS ARRESTED IN ANTI-NORTON PROTEST

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Three protesters from Greenpeace scaled an exterior wall of the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, DC this morning, unfurling a large banner reading "Bush and Norton: Our Land, Not Oil Land."

Two of the activists were anchored to the building for half an hour before rappelling down. All three activists were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

The international environmental group was protesting Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton's record on the environment, which includes support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Norton faces Congressional confirmation hearings this afternoon.

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The Greenpeace banner and two activists hang from the façade of the Interior Department headquarters (Photo © Greenpeace)
Calling for President elect George W. Bush to adopt emergency measures to phase in renewable energy, Greenpeace announced that today's protest is the beginning of an intensified campaign to safeguard public lands.

"The police can cut down our banner, but we are going to continue to carry our message loud and clear to the Bush Administration and to the oil industry," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace. "America needs to be weaned off of its dangerous dependence on fossil fuel. The technology for viable renewable energy is sitting right under our noses, waiting for a strong commitment from the U.S. government and industry."

Tomorrow, climate scientists will release their third assessment of climate change, predicting global warming increases twice as large as those projected just five years ago. Most of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming come from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal.

"Bush's current energy plan is not only a waste of energy but a threat to the planet," said Melanie Duchin, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Alaska. "We don't need oil interests in the White House, we need a leader with a real energy plan to begin emergency initiatives towards a fossil free future."

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COAL USE WILL REACH RECORD LEVELS IN 2001

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Coal use in the U.S. will reach an all time high in 2001, the National Mining Association (NMA) predicted this week. Coal demand is expected to total 1.085 billion tons, 21 million tons greater than the record 1.064 billion tons used in the year 2000.

This rise in coal use is driven by an unprecedented demand for affordable and reliable coal fired electricity at a time when the nation is suffering through one of its coldest winters, according to NMA's "2001 Forecast of Coal Markets."

NMA president and CEO Jack Gerard said electric utilities have been the driving force behind the record consumption levels since the mid-1980's.

"Because of the strong U.S. economy and utilities' desire for a clean burning low cost fuel to produce electricity, America's coal mining companies are alive and well and are continuing to produce coal at near all time historical levels," said Gerard. "It is because of America's continued and increasing reliance on the country's most plentiful, reliable, clean and least costly energy resource, coal."

Gerard pointed out that consumers in regions reliant on coal for their electricity have dodged the natural gas price bullet this winter.

"Because of coal they have been spared spikes in their price of electricity. I know Californians are wishing they were as fortunate," Gerard said.

Exports will add another 65.3 million tons to the overall demand for U.S. coal bringing total consumption levels to 1.151 billion tons. Production will come just short of meeting demand for U.S. coal and the difference will be met with a drawdown in stockpiles.

By the end of 2001, coal stockpiles at utilities are expected to be lower than at any time since 1974.

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NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN AMENDMENTS PROMOTE LOGGING

PORTLAND, Oregon, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Federal agencies have approved changes to a forest management plan which critics say could result in the logging of 400,000 acres of mature forest. The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture signed a Record of Decision on January 12 that finalizes changes in the "Survey and Manage" mitigation measures in the Northwest Forest Plan.

The amendment will allow the logging of 400,000 acres of mature forest on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest. A 1998 lawsuit and court injunction stopped the agencies from logging the habitat of sensitive species without first surveying and protecting their habitat as mandated by the Northwest Forest Plan.

At least 346 rare and little known species are associated with old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. The Northwest Forest Plan required land managers to follow Survey and Manage Standards and Guidelines to protect these species.

But agency scientists have had problems identifying certain species in the field. Some species received more protection than was needed while others did not receive adequate protection, federal officials said.

In 1998, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began preparing a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) addressing the survey and management requirements of the Plan.

"The agencies have taken a large step to address the needs of the species and the communities in the Northwest," said Dick Prather, SEIS team leader. "Changes to the Survey and Manage requirement are designed to incorporate up to date science, continue to provide an appropriate level of protection for rare and little known species, and use the agencies' resources more efficiently."

But environmental groups say the agencies have made it easier to log old growth trees, while doing little to protect rare species.

"Today's decision has everything to do with making it easier to log our public old growth," said Doug Heiken of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "The public is asking for an end to old growth logging. … Yet the agencies forge ahead against all odds to continue the destruction of our last best places."

The Final SEIS is available at: http://www.or.blm.gov/nwfpnepa

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MAGNESIUM MINING COMPANY CHARGED WITH POLLUTING

SALT LAKE CITY, Nevada, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Magnesium Corporation of America and its parent corporation Renco Metals Inc., have been charged with illegally handling hazardous waste at a magnesium production plant on the edge of the Great Salt Lake.

For years, the MagCorp plant has ranked number one on the EPA's toxic release inventory, based on its chlorine emissions. The facility is the third largest producer of magnesium in the world.

In the complaint filed Tuesday, the government alleges that Magnesium Corporation (MagCorp) is illegally generating, storing and disposing of waste including at least five wastes regarded as hazardous because of their toxicity or corrosivity. The Justice Department brought the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking the court to direct MagCorp to comply with federal and state environmental laws.

The suit also asks the court to impose penalties on MagCorp under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal hazardous waste law. RCRA requires companies such as MagCorp to meet standards for treating, storing and disposing of wastes; minimize hazardous releases to the environment; establish training programs for employees; and meet dozens of other requirements.

"All companies that manage hazardous waste should be on notice that the federal government will do everything in its power to protect public health and the environment from illegal operations," said Steve Herman, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "The people in the surrounding community deserve to live in safe and clean environment."

MagCorp processes magnesium chloride salts taken from water of the Great Salt Lake at its Tooele County, Utah, plant. The plant discharges thousands of gallons per day of liquids and solid waste into several unlined ditches and into a 400 acre pond adjacent to the Great Salt Lake.

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PCB CONTAMINATION STILL A PROBLEM AT FORT WAINWRIGHT

FAIRBANKS, Alaska, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Army's Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks has been cited for mishandling PCB contaminated transformers, including one located on a children's playground.

Fort Wainwright has received a "Notice of Significant Non-Compliance" from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failure to comply with federal PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) waste handling and storage laws.

The 19 violations described in the EPA's inspection report included failure to document and track a transformer containing 260,000 parts per million of PCBs. The transformer was located on a playground.

Other violations include incomplete or inaccurate inspection records for other transformers stored for disposal on the base, failure to mark or clean up visible PCB spills in storage areas, and improper labeling of PCB containing transformers, as required by federal law.

"We were under the impression that these problems at Fort Wainwright were a thing of the past," said Marcia Combes, EPA's Alaska state director. "But we were surprised to find that in follow up investigations that PCB waste management is still not a high priority for that facility," despite previous EPA inspections and enforcement actions.

PCBs have been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, gastric disorders and skin lesions. Exposure to PCBs in humans can cause a painful skin ailment, liver damage, nausea, dizziness, eye irritation and bronchitis.

"Unfortunately, the issue of PCB management is one aspect of ongoing environmental problems at Fort Wainwright," said EPA's Combes. "We're expecting to see improvements and more consistent results. The Army has demonstrated their capability at other facilities in Alaska and within the Superfund Program, we're just not seeing it across all programs at Fort Wainwright."

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POLICE CHIEFS SAY REFUGE LAW ENFORCEMENT NEEDS EXPANDING

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - The law enforcement needs of the National Wildlife Refuge System are expanding, shows an independent assessment conducted by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP) for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The report calls for stronger centralized leadership of the program and an increase in the number of full time refuge officers, and recommends additional improvements to operations, training and recruitment to meet the challenges posed by increasing visitation and encroaching urbanization on national wildlife refuges across the country.

The full text of the report, "Protecting the National Wildlife Refuge System: Law Enforcement Requirements for the 21st Century," is available at: http://bluegoose.arw.r9.fws.gov/new.html

"To continue to protect our natural resources and serve the public that visits national wildlife refuges, our law enforcement capabilities must expand and improve," said USFWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "We are grateful to the IACP for conducting this thorough and constructive assessment of our needs, and for providing us with recommendations on how to meet the challenges ahead."

Refuge law enforcement officers are responsible for protecting facilities and natural resources, ensuring visitor safety and ensuring compliance with state and federal laws on the more than 530 national wildlife refuges across the country.

Although violent crime on refuges continues to be rare, law enforcement officers on national wildlife refuges confront the same problems as urban police, including drug trafficking and abuse, gang activity, drunkenness, weapons violations, illegal alien activity, vandalism, traffic accidents and medical emergencies.

The increased need for law enforcement is linked to refuge visitation, which is expanding by almost seven percent each year.

"Like residents of communities across the country," the IACP says, "visitors expect refuge law enforcement to close cases, bring offenders to justice and return property."