AmeriScan: January 25, 2001

BUSH CABINET NOMINEES ADVANCE THROUGH SENATE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate has confirmed two more of President George W. Bush's cabinet nominees. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson will be Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Norman Mineta, who served as secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, will be Secretary of Transportation.

Both men were confirmed by unanimous votes on Wednesday.

Gale Norton, the president's controversial nominee for interior secretary, won approval by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 18-2 vote. Norton's nomination is opposed by environmental groups that question her commitment to environmental protection.

The Sierra Club expressed disappointment that the committee passed Norton, and praised the two Democratic Senators who opposed the nomination: Charles Schumer of New York and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

"Two days of hearings cannot negate the decades Norton's worked to undermine environmental protections," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "After a career spent trying to dismantle laws protecting our national parks, streams and wildlife, we're skeptical about Norton's sudden u-turn on these issues. Senators extracted from Norton a pledge to uphold the laws safeguarding our public lands, but we believe a lifetime of actions speak louder than two days of words. Norton has worked for decades as a lobbyist and lawyer for extractive and polluting industries."

The committee vote cleared Norton for a final vote - and almost certain approval - by the full Senate on January 30. The nominations of Elaine Chao to be secretary of labor and Christine Whitman to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency are scheduled for final consideration the same day.

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MAYORS URGE AMERICA TO CUT ENERGY USE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2001 (ENS) - The mayors of America want the nation to reduce energy use by 10 percent to combat growing instability in energy prices and supply.

At the 69th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the mayors called on the states and the new George W. Bush administration to work with America's cities to develop energy policies to further this conservation goal and produce new energy supplies.

"There's a very real potential, unless there's a national response to this energy crisis, that this problem could be more extensive, further disrupting the lives of more Americans and the economic vitality of this nation," said Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick McCrory, who chairs the Conference's Standing Committee on Energy and Environment.

McCrory

North Carolina Mayor Patrick McCrory (Photo courtesy Office of the Mayor)
More than 300 mayors attended the Winter Meeting to discuss policy priorities for America's cities, the new administration and Congress.

"First, we want to work with the federal government and our own state governments to develop a comprehensive national energy policy," McCrory said. "And second, there needs to be a national response with regard to conservation, which should begin with the establishment of a national goal of a ten percent reduction in energy usage. This should begin immediately."

The mayors also called for an immediate review of the causes of the California electricity crisis so that this experience is not repeated in other parts of the nation.

Conference president and Boise, Idaho mayor H. Brent Coles said the mayors are confident that the Bush administration will form close ties with mayors, citing meetings last week with key officials from the Bush-Cheney transition office. "We look forward to working with the administration on crafting national energy policy, among a host of other issues," Coles said.

Visit the Conference website at: http://www.usmayors.org to download a copy of Mayor Coles' "Priorities for the New American City," which details top Conference priorities.

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500th CHEMICAL SAFETY TEST PUBLISHED

WASHINGTON, DC, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. National Toxicology Program has published its 500th two year safety test of chemicals in rodents - a landmark in a series that has influenced public policy on air, water, food and drug quality.

These safety reports have often formed the foundation for regulatory action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"We are proud of this milestone of health protection. These 500 tests have had a profound effect on our health and the length of our lives," said National Toxicology Program (NTP) director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D. "In 1997 and 1998 alone, nine of these studies were the basis for regulatory decisions by the EPA, FDA, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration."

The 500th report is on ordinary naphthalene, the principle ingredient in mothballs and the familiar odor in millions of closets. It is also used as a restroom deodorizer.

The rat study found clear evidence that naphthalene causes cancer, a finding that scientists and regulators will use in determining whether the chemical presents a risk to humans. An abstract of the study is available at: http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov

"The National Toxicology Program's testing prevents disease by identifying hazards and allowing the regulatory agencies and the marketplace to act on these results," said Olden. "That is how NTP has its great benefit on human health."

Almost half the chemicals tested by NTP do not produce tumors in laboratory rodents, and with a few rare exceptions, chemicals that cause tumors or other diseases in rodents are found to cause similar if not identical problems in humans.

Rodents are used to test the chemicals because they are inexpensive to breed and keep, but are biologically similar to humans, and because their long use in laboratories has taught researchers a great deal about them. Animal rights groups have pressed for alternative testing methods that do not require the sacrifice of laboratory animals, and some of those techniques are being adopted.

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GOLDEN EAGLET TRAPPING WINS TENTATIVE APPROVAL

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to let the Hopi Tribe capture golden eagle chicks in Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff.

The NPS has determined that under certain circumstance it is appropriate to allow the Native American tribe to collect golden eaglets within Wupatki for religious ceremonial purposes. Collecting would be authorized under conditions consistent with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and aimed at protecting park resources.

No other NPS unit or tribe would be affected by the proposed rule. The rule applies to one area within Wupatki National Monument where there are eagle nests historically associated with the Hopi Tribe.

If the proposed rule becomes final, analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would have to be done before the park superintendent could issue a permit to the Hopi for collection of golden eaglets.

Critics of the proposal, including the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), say the rule would open an NPS unit to the removal of wildlife for purposes other than research, safety, or for park administrative purposes - establishing a dangerous precedent for the entire National Park System.

"This issue is exceedingly complex," said Dave Simon, NPCA southwest regional director. "We neither question nor condemn the Tribe for their beliefs or practices. We have great respect for the cultural and religious traditions of all Native Americans. However, we feel strongly that allowing the Hopi to remove wildlife from Wupatki National Monument is in violation of current Park Service law and regulations. We urge the Park Service to move carefully and within the constraints of the law."

The NPS will accept public comments on the proposal for 60 days. An environmental assessment and the proposed rule are available at: http://www.nps.gov/wupa/ and through the Federal Register at http://www.nara.gov/fedreg/

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FOREST ACTIVISTS SENTENCED FOR LOGGING PROTESTS

NEVADA CITY, California, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - Five members of the nonviolent direction action group Yuba Nation were sentenced Wednesday in Nevada County Superior Court for disrupting logging on Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) property last year.

The activists, Brian Vincent, Heidi Starr, Lori Largent, Megan Petit and Alejandra Lejune, were arrested last summer for protesting the timber company's project along the Yuba River. As part of a plea bargain reached today, the activists agreed to pay restitution to Robinson Enterprises, Inc., the contractor hired by SPI to log the area, as well as two years probation and work release.

Vincent was also sentenced to 10 days in the county jail. In return, District Attorney Michael Ferguson agreed to drop some charges against the activists, including conspiracy charges against Vincent and Starr for their roles in the protests.

The amount the activists will be ordered to pay Robinson will be determined at a later hearing. Despite today's legal consequences, the nonviolent direct action group vowed to continue their campaign against SPI.

"These charges will not have any chilling effect on my commitment to exposing Sierra Pacific Industries' crimes against nature. SPI has not heard the last from us," said Vincent, who blocked a logging road last June by sitting atop a 40 foot tripod. Another activist locked herself underneath a logging truck while Vincent was in the tripod.

Two weeks after the tripod action, Starr and Largent locked themselves to logging equipment, while Lejune climbed a tree and Pettit provided food and support to the others. Vincent has vowed to go on a hunger strike during his incarceration next month.

"Today's legal resolution will only strengthen my resolve to bringing SPI to justice. Fighting for the forests is no crime. It is a noble and just pursuit," said Vincent.

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LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LAB CITED FOR SAFETY VIOLATIONS

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has cited the University of California for violations of nuclear safety rules at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. The University of California operates LANL for the NNSA.

The violations stem from several events, including a March 2000 accident at one facility in which eight workers were exposed to airborne plutonium during a leak from a glovebox system. The plutonium leaked from a loose fitting in an auxiliary gas system.

The workers involved were placed on temporary work restrictions to limit additional exposure until dose estimates could be determined. Up to three workers may have received exposures that exceeded the annual regulatory limit set for this work; one worker's exposure has been estimated at over five times the annual limit.

The citation also lists several events at a second facility in which nuclear facilities were operated outside of the limits and controls set by facility safety documents.

LANL is exempt from civil penalty by law. If it were not exempt, the lab would have been fined $605,000, based on the significance of the events.

"Our goal is to avoid such incidents by being proactive and making safety an integral part of every operation," said John Gordon, NNSA administrator.

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NEW WILDLIFE REFUGE PROPOSED IN NORTHWESTERN KENTUCKY

HENDERSON, Kentucky, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to establish a new national wildlife refuge in northwestern Kentucky. The proposed Green River National Wildlife Refuge would be located on up to 23,000 acres of flood prone agricultural lands, bottomland hardwoods, and other wetlands along the confluence of the Green and Ohio Rivers.

"The primary purpose of the proposed Green River National Wildlife Refuge is to restore and manage a complex of valuable wetlands for the benefit of migrating and wintering waterfowl," said Southeast regional director Sam Hamilton. "Establishment of the refuge, along with habitat restoration and proper management, would provide excellent migratory bird habitat and contribute to the habitat conservation goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Lower Mississippi River Joint Venture."

The refuge would benefit a wide variety of wildlife, including migratory songbirds, shorebirds, wading birds and bald eagles, and resident species such as white tailed deer and eastern cottontail rabbits.

The USFWS is proposing to acquire lands for the refuge through a combination of fee title purchases from willing sellers and leases, conservation easements or cooperative agreements with willing landowners.

Public comments on the refuge proposal will be accepted until March 9. The USFWS has outlined three alternatives for the protection of the 23,000 acre project area and the potential environmental impacts.

A draft environmental assessment considers the biological, environmental and socioeconomic effects of establishing the refuge. To review the assessment or comment on the project, visit: http://planning.se.fws.gov

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MICHIGAN FISHERIES TRUST COULD BE NATIONAL MODEL

DETROIT, Michigan, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - A financial settlement between a Michigan utility company and a group of public, private and tribal conservation interests created a state fisheries trust program that has developed benefits for recreational anglers in less than four years.

The settlement is one of the largest fisheries protection and restoration settlements in the U.S.

"This program can be a terrific model for fisheries oriented conservation throughout this country," said William Hartwig, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region. The UFSWS is one of eight partners that administer the trust.

The trust was created in 1996 as part of a settlement with Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison, two utility companies that operate the Ludington, Michigan, Pumped Storage Plant. Hydroelectric turbines at the Storage Plant had killed thousands of fish.

When a decade of negotiations between the state of Michigan and the utilities failed to eliminate fish losses at the plant, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the National Wildlife Federation filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Michigan followed suit with litigation that sought compensation.

The USFWS and representatives of several tribes joined the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Attorney General in the subsequent settlement.

The Trust awarded $1.1 million in research grants in 2000, and expects to provide millions of dollars more over the next 20 years. Since 1996, the Trust has awarded $9 million in grants for projects including researching fish infections and genetics, halting stream bank erosion, supporting fisheries education, and evaluating lake trout stocking.

"This Trust is enabling us to reach audiences, protect fish populations and give citizens broad, new areas of access to fishing that just wouldn't have been otherwise possible," said Charlie Wooley, a USFWS employee and a member of the Board of Trustees. "This will be a legacy of tremendous environmental benefits for the people of the Upper Great Lakes."

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BOY SCOUT RINGS MAY CONTAIN DEADLY METAL

CLEVELAND, Ohio, January 25, 2001 (ENS) - Ohio Citizen Action is calling on the Boy Scouts of America to halt the sales of their beryllium Eagle Scout ring and recall all beryllium containing jewelry sold by their organization.

"Beryllium is a deadly metal. It should not be used to manufacture jewelry," said Amy Ryder, Cleveland director for Ohio Citizen Action.

Beryllium, a hard, lightweight metal with a high melting point, is used in some jewelry, military hardware, electronics, dental work and automobiles. Brush Wellman, Inc., headquartered in Cleveland, is the largest producer of beryllium in the country.

People exposed to beryllium dust or fumes can develop chronic beryllium disease, an incurable lung ailment. A recent report by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that almost one-tenth of Brush Wellman's workforce at their Elmore, Ohio plant has beryllium disease or have blood levels indicating they are at risk of developing the disease.

Ohio Citizen Action believes workers handling beryllium in other industries are unaware of the dangers posed by the metal.

"There are likely thousands of people out there working with beryllium whose lives are endangered because nobody is telling them that beryllium kills," said Ryder.

In her letter to Boy Scouts of America (BSA) president Edward Whitacre, Ryder wrote, "The workers who make the beryllium Eagle Scout ring are in danger of developing and dying from beryllium disease. While the ring manufacturer is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of its workers, we believe BSA can set a good example for its young members by discontinuing the sale of beryllium containing jewelry."

A Dallas law firm has filed a national class action lawsuit against Brush Wellman seeking beryllium testing for all current and former employees of all current and former Brush Wellman customers. The employees of the Boy Scouts ring manufacturer could be covered under this lawsuit if the manufacturer purchases their beryllium directly from Brush Wellman.