AmeriScan: January 3, 2002


SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - Three environmental organizations filed suit Wednesday over the failure of 18 federal agencies to meet requirements that they buy alternative fueled vehicles.

The 1992 Energy Policy Act, passed in the wake of the Gulf War and supported by the first President George Bush, requires federal agencies to buy vehicles that run on alternative fuels as a way to reduce the country's dependence on petroleum. In signing the act into law, former president Bush said, "My action today will place America upon a clear path toward a more prosperous, energy efficient, environmentally sensitive and economically secure future."

The act required the Department of Energy to develop and oversee a plan to replace 10 percent of U.S. gas consumption with alternative fuels by the year 2000 and 30 percent by 2010. Agencies with vehicle fleets in larger cities were required to be buying three alternative fueled vehicles for every traditional vehicle by now.

Under the act, all federal agencies with qualifying vehicle fleets - those in larger cities - were required to purchase 25 percent alternative fuel vehicles in fiscal year 1996, with that number rising to 33 percent in 1997, 50 percent in 1998 and 75 percent in 1999. For the year 2000 and beyond, the requirement remains at 75 percent.

Most federal agencies have not come close to meeting these minimums. For example, the Department of Commerce purchased only 11 percent alternative fuel vehicles in 1998, 16 percent in 1999 and 17 percent in 2000.

Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) purchased just 35 percent alternative fuel vehicles in 1998.

Other federal agencies meet the requirements only on paper, by purchasing vehicles that are alternative fuel capable, but which can also run on regular gasoline.

"It is truly startling to find such wholesale non-compliance with a federal statute whose purpose could not be more timely as we embark on a new round of debates over the current President [George W.] Bush's proposed National Energy Policy," said Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton.

Earthjustice is representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Bluewater Network and the Sierra Club in the suit. The defendants include the DOE, the EPA, and the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture and Interior.

"Using new technologies to clean up the air for our children's health is what this law was designed to do," asked Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Why is the Bush administration pushing for more oil burning when federal law requires it to take the lead in a healthier direction?"

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - More than 3,500 freshwater turtles and tortoises are headed for Florida in a massive, international rescue effort.

The turtles are among some 7,500 turtles confiscated from smugglers in Hong Kong in early December. The shipment, the largest seizure of live turtles ever in Hong Kong, is estimated to be worth more than $400,000 U.S. dollars. It includes at least a dozen species, of which several are classified as critically endangered or endangered under international laws.

The turtles and tortoises were smuggled by air from Singapore to Macau, destined to be killed for food in China. The turtles who survived were being kept alive until they reach the market because restaurants and customers prefer to purchase live turtles and tortoises, ensuring that the meat and organs are fresh.

"Turtles destined for the live food market are grossly mishandled from the moment they are captured," explains Dr. Teresa Telecky, director of The Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) Wildlife Trade Program. "Captured turtles are not provided food or water for days or weeks, and are kept in unsanitary conditions before being crammed one on top of the other - into cardboard boxes for shipment to markets."

The turtles were seized during a joint operation of the Hong Kong Customs Ship Search and Cargo Command and the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department. Four men have been arrested and may face penalties of up to one year imprisonment and a fine of HK$500,000, or about $64,100 U.S. dollars.

The HSUS and Humane Society International have provided US$10,000 toward the rescue effort, which is headed by a coalition of conservation groups called the Turtle Survival Alliance. Several shipments are headed for the Appalatah Flats Turtle Preserve near Miami, Florida, where they will be treated and catalogued.

Those that survive will be distributed to zoos and other facilities with captive breeding programs. The Turtle Protection Alliance hopes to eventually return some of the turtles or their offspring to protected areas within their native habitat.

"A turtle rescue of this large a scale has never before been attempted," said Dr. Barbara Bonner Director of the Turtle Hospital of New England, based in Massachusetts. "Unfortunately, because of their poor condition, we expect mortality to exceed 95 percent."

"Even the large number of animals in this rescue represents only a fraction of the 20,000 - 30,000 freshwater turtles and tortoises traded every two to three days in China," said Dr. Bonner.

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GOGEBIC COUNTY, Michigan, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - The Trust for Public Land has helped to protect 775 acres of land along 1.5 miles of the Black River and its tributaries in Gogebic County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Formerly owned by U.S. Steel LCC, this section of the Black River corridor offers a wide array of outdoor activities including limited canoeing, camping, hiking, fishing and boating. The North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the property and the Black River National Scenic Byway parallels the Black River.

The Black River, designated a scenic river under the National Wild and Scenic River Act, is located on the western edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, flowing northward into Lake Superior's Black River Harbor.

"Adding this portion of the Black River to the Forest helps to protect the natural character of the landscape while increasing the recreational opportunities for the public in the Forest," said Randy Charles, acting Ottawa National Forest supervisor. "Without TPL's participation, the public may have been limited from visiting the magnificent falls in this area."

Dennis Hendricks, north regional manager for US Steel Real Estate, said the purchase will ensure "that this stretch of the Black River will be open and available for the public to enjoy for many generations to come."

The property features over 1.5 miles of Black River frontage, including Chippewa Falls, the first in a series of seven waterfalls, and about 1.5 miles of Black River tributaries including Kirby, Greys and Whelp Creeks. The river frontage is lined with hardwoods, hemlock and cedar timber, providing wildlife and fisheries habitat including quality trout streams and travel corridors for the native timber wolf population.

The property was acquired with an $832,600 appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The project is part of the TPL's Northwoods Initiative, a tri-state program focused on protecting endangered lands in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Funds from the TPL's Northwoods Land Protection Fund were used to secure and hold the property while federal funds were appropriated.

"The natural lands of the Upper Peninsula are an economic benefit to the entire region," notes Shaun Hamilton, senior project manager for TPL. "Through our Northwoods Initiative, we can provide landowners with conservation alternatives while helping communities protect key lands for public use."

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COLUMBIA, Missouri, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - The tiny Tumbling Creek cavesnail, found in just one cave stream in southwest Missouri, was given immediate protection on December 27 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The Tumbling Creek cavesnail's population has plummeted in recent years, and biologists believe that the species may face imminent extinction. The USFWS action places the Tumbling Creek cavesnail on the federal endangered species list for 240 days.

During this period, federal agencies must consult with the USFWS before taking any action which could impact the species or its habitat. At the same time, the USFWS will evaluate a proposed rule that, if approved, would list the species as endangered under the regular provisions of the Act.

"We have been closely watching the status of the Tumbling Creek cavesnail for several years, and we are dismayed to see that the most recent surveys indicate a drastic drop in population levels," said Bill Hartwig, director for the USFWS Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region. "The cavesnail needs help immediately to prevent extinction, while we complete the normal process of proposing the species for listing under the Act."

In 1974, researchers estimated the Tumbling Creek cavesnail population at 15,000 individuals. Periodic sampling of a section of the cave began in 1996. Since then, population estimates in the survey area have ranged from a high of 1,166 individuals surveyed in 1997 to the failure to find any cavesnails in 2001.

Although no cavesnails were found in the survey area during several 2001 searches, 30 to 40 individuals were discovered in another section of the cave stream, indicating that an unknown number of cavesnails still survive in the cave.

Tumbling Creek Cave supports a high diversity of species. Several new species of invertebrates have been discovered there, and the cave also hosts colonies of endangered gray bats and endangered Indiana bats.

The cave itself is privately owned, while the land in the surrounding watershed is in both public and private ownership. Biologists believe the quality of the water in Tumbling Creek has deteriorated, and may be linked to the downturn in the cavesnail's population.

Species like the cavesnail are vulnerable to changes in water quality and quantity. Their underground habitats are recharged by water filtering down from the surface. Land use activities on the surface of the land can affect water quality below.

"The Tumbling Creek cavesnail is yet another indicator of the quality of the environment around us," said Hartwig. "This species' decline is telling us that something has gone wrong with the natural system supporting this cave. Ultimately, this can affect all life that depends on this system including ourselves."

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - Pennsylvania is using motion-sensitive cameras to help identify and prosecute individuals who illegally dump trash in state forest and park lands.

"We're working hard to educate people on the proper way to dispose of tires, appliances and other garbage," said state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) secretary John Oliver. "There's never a good reason to trash our forests. But now individuals who use Pennsylvania's public lands as a dumping ground could find themselves starring in a film that will result in a criminal record."

The use of the cameras is being piloted in Michaux State Forest, which spreads into parts of Adams, Cumberland and Franklin counties. Seventeen illegal dump sites have been identified in Michaux State Forest.

The cameras were purchased as part of the Forest Lands Beautification Program, a five year campaign to clean up existing dumps on state forest and park lands. In 2002, the forest camera program will be expanded to other Pennsylvania state forests.

According to Gary Zimmerman, Michaux State Forest Assistant District Forester, the cameras will be placed at undisclosed dump sites throughout the forest. The small cameras range from seven inches long to just one-and-a-half inches square, and will rotate among various locations so dumpers will have difficulty determining whether they are being captured on tape.

Because illegal dumping often occurs in remote areas, the forest cameras will supplement monitoring of dump sites by foresters and volunteers. More than 130 miles of rural roads run through the 85,000 acre Michaux State Forest.

"The cameras are a great law enforcement tool for a tough problem," Zimmerman said. "Because dumpers will never know where the cameras are, they might think twice about dumping on forest lands. And for those captured on tape, we'll have evidence to move forward with a prosecution."

If convicted, offenders can be fined up to $300 plus court costs. Forest dumpers are also often sentenced to perform community service.

More than 200 illegal dump sites have been identified throughout Pennsylvania. To date, 68 sites have been cleaned through the efforts of more than 615 volunteers. These cleanups have resulted in the removal of almost 350 tons of debris - including 4,000 tires, 73 tons of scrap metal, construction materials, household trash, furniture and more.

More information is available at:

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KINGSTON, Rhode Island, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - A University of Rhode Island researcher will receive $830,000 from the Department of Defense to field test a new technology for cleaning up hazardous wastes.

Environmental hydrologist Thomas Boving, assistant professor of geosciences at URI, and colleagues from the University of Arizona, the Colorado College of Mines, and the University of Texas-San Antonio, developed an innovative system to remove a wide range of toxic materials from the ground using a product called cyclodextrin.

"Cyclodextrin is a type of sugar made from corn starch," said Boving, a native of Germany who joined the URI faculty in 1999. "It's better than other technologies for cleaning up hazardous materials because it's non-toxic and leaving it underground for a period of time causes no harm."

Due to the chemical structure of cyclodextrin, many toxic materials like solvents, pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are attracted to it. To clean up a site, Boving will inject quantities of cyclodextrin solution into contaminated soil and groundwater.

After allowing the material to move through the earth and attract the contaminants, the cyclodextrin will be pumped out of the ground and recycled. Because of the relative high cost of cyclodextrin, using it just once would make the process uneconomical.

Boving and colleagues from the URI Chemical Engineering Department developed a method of stripping off the contaminants from the cyclodextrin so it can be used again.

Boving said that the grant from the Defense Department's Environmental Security Technology Certification program will allow him to prove the benefits and advantages of his technology for aquifer cleanup.

"No one who has to clean up a site is going to use an unproven system, so this grant will allow us to demonstrate that our system is quicker and more economical than the most commonly used methods today," Boving said.

The Department of Defense controls about 28,000 sites that must be cleaned up, and at least 500 of those contain the contaminants on which Boving's system works best. The federal government estimates it will cost about $1 trillion to clean up these sites and the thousands of other sites around the country that also need cleaning.

A military installation in Virginia was selected as the field demonstration site for Boving's technology demonstration. Beginning in May, his team will conduct preliminary testing of the soils and groundwater at the test site and prepare the field study. The actual field test will continue for three to four months during summer of 2002.

"There is a tremendous amount of work to do to clean up the thousands of toxic sites in the country," Boving said. "Obtaining the military's seal of approval for our system is a big step in the right direction for us."

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SANTA CRUZ, California, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - Two conservation groups are challenging a recent decision by the Los Padres National Forest to allow renewed cattle grazing on federal lands in the Los Padres National Forest next to the Silver Peak and Ventana Wilderness areas on California's Big Sur coast.

The eight federal grazing allotments range from Torre Canyon below Big Sur State Park to San Carpoforo Creek on the Monterey/San Luis Obispo County line. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) plans to keep two small allotments closed to grazing and to close a third allotment in the Cone Peak Research Natural Area.

The USFS will also open new areas to livestock around Salmon Creek, Cozy Cove and San Carpoforo Creek. The number of livestock using the public lands in the coastal areas is set to increase by almost 100 head, from 268 to 362.

"The Forest Service has ignored countless objections to livestock on these public lands from the many citizens who visit these areas to enjoy natural beauty and wildlife. Their proposal to stop the conflicts between cows and nature are just cosmetic changes and promises to do better," said Steve Chambers, of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance. "If they haven't been 'doing better' up until now, how can we believe the Forest Service will improve the situation?"

The Ventana Wilderness Alliance was joined by the Center for Biological Diversity in appealing the USFS decision.

"We have uncovered multiple failures to meet the standards of at least seven federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act," said Dr. Martin Taylor, coordinator of the Grazing Reform Program at the Tucson office of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Forest Service didn't consider a great deal of scientific evidence or even data in their own records showing that livestock are degrading habitat for at least three endangered species, the steelhead, the red legged frog and Smith's blue butterfly. Their reasoning is inconsistent -- saying they are closing some allotments to protect species and other resources from cows while saying they are keeping other allotments open to protect the same things!"

The two groups expressed alarm that the USFS is increasing the number of livestock on the allotments, despite the damage done by cattle ranching to the public lands.

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CROWNSVILLE, Maryland, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - Maryland's Gunston Pointe will be protected from development thanks to the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) and landowner Paul Facchina.

The 328 acre parcel on the Nanjemoy River and Hilltop Fork in Charles County borders a wetland complex of tidal freshwater wetlands, nontidal wetlands and upland islands. Facchina, owner of Facchina Construction Corporation, donated a conservation easement on Gunston Pointe to MET.

"The protection of this property contributes to maintaining the water quality of these wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay watershed," said MET director John Bernstein. "Paul Facchina's generosity benefits the land, the ecological resources that depend on it, and the character of Charles County as a whole."

A conservation easement is a tool for landowners to protect natural resources and preserve open space. The easement limits the landowner's right to develop and subdivide the land, now and in the future, but the donor retains ownership of the land.

Fachina has also protected his 400 acre farm in Mt. Air with two conservation easements granted to MET, and he hopes to place additional properties under easement in the future.

In Charles County, landowners have now protected more than 4,000 acres of land by donating conservation easements, including a 144 acre historic farm near LaPlata, a 1,680 acre farm near Chapel Point State Park, and 232 acres of farmland and woods along the Wicomico River.

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation in 2001 allowing a state income tax credit for donations of conservation easements to MET and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation. The maximum credit is $5,000 per year.

In its almost 35 year history, MET has helped landowners protect over 80,000 acres of land with more than 600 conservation easements.